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A school nutrition manager said she was upset and angry after reading a report blaming her for the fallout when 17 students' school lunches were thrown away at Uintah Elementary School in January.
"I read the report," Shirley Canham told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday. "I was not happy with it, obviously."
Salt Lake City School District released the report, conducted by outside investigators, two weeks ago after the school lunch incident gained national attention and prompted changes to school lunch policies around the state.
Investigators laid most of the blame for the incident on Canham, saying she failed to properly notify parents of low account balances and lied to her supervisor about the school's normal procedures for serving students with accounts in arrears.
But Canham said the report is misleading in what details it does and does not include and largely excuses the district for allowing an antiquated and ill-conceived policy to remain in practice.
"They knew what they were doing and they knew their policy wasn't right," she said. "It was easy to take it out on a 62-year-old lunch lady."
The Salt Lake Tribune had not named Canham previously after she reported receiving death threats in the wake of the controversy.
Canham said she typically didn't follow the district's policy of trashing lunches because it made her uncomfortable and she knew the school's parents well enough to let children to eat and bring a check to school the next day.
When a district supervisor visited the school in January, Canham said she was scared to violate the district's policy. When asked about procedures, Canham told the supervisor that students with empty accounts regularly had their lunches taken away in exchange for a piece of fruit and a milk.
That day, as students came through the line with empty accounts, Canham said she was told by her supervisor to follow policy by throwing away the lunches.
"She said, 'No. You have to do this,'" Canham said. "It was horrible. It was a horrible day."
But Canham also defended her supervisor, Peggy Bjornn, who was new to the district and similarly following instructions.
"I think she did what she thought she had to do," Canham said. "She was trying to please her boss and she didn't know any different."
District spokesman Jason Olsen could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but External Relations Director Michael Williams said the district typically does not comment on personnel decisions.
"The report speaks for itself," he said.
Outrage over the trashed lunches led to a change in the district's policy, which now guarantees a lunch for all students, regardless of the balance in their accounts.
Canham and Bjornn were placed on administrative leave following the incident. According to Canham, Bjornn's contract with the district was not renewed for the 2014-2015 school year and Canham declined an offer to return to Uintah Elementary School.
"That was a personal decision," she said. "It was prayerful decision on my part."
Erica Lukes, a Uintah Elementary School parent, said the report is indicative of the district's efforts to pin its troubles on Canham and move on.
She said its been saddening to watch Canham be defamed while school officials continue to shirk responsibility.
"We know Shirley," Lukes said. "We all love her and we know how good she is with our kids."
Lukes said she would like to see disciplinary action taken against the district's head of nutritional services and Uintah Elementary School Principal Chelsea Malouf. She said the policy of taking lunches from students was not limited to Uintah Elementary School and it is wrong for the district to imply that what happened in January was an isolated incident.
"I would, at the very least, like to see a public apology to Shirley for defaming her character," Lukes said. "She was nothing but a loving person to our children. She took care of them and they miss her dearly."
Canham said that she loved her job but likely would not return if the district offered an apology. She said she is considering further legal action against the district.
"I am speaking to attorneys," Canham said. "I don't feel I'm at liberty to give too much about that at this point."