The original posting of the story complete with comments is located in our archives at: Cafeteria Story.
January 29, 2010
This letter is in response to the article, Cafeteria Behavior, Policies Questioned By State Officials, written by Jack Gurner in this week’s edition of the North Mississippi Herald.
The day in question happened to be the day that a memorial service was held for the spouse of one of our teachers. Classes were doubled for a time to provide teachers and assistant teachers an opportunity to go to the service in support of their colleague.
The elementary staff does an excellent job providing each and every child an opportunity to learn in a safe and orderly environment that is conducive to learning. Our teachers do not need a tongue lashing, a reprimand, or to be whipped into shape as quoted in the newspaper.
Our cafeteria is not a prison, nor will we ever operate it as a prison. The cafeteria at the elementary school does not have a behavior issue because a five year old put pudding on his face. This is probably a five year old who obviously didn’t like the pudding!
The Mississippi Department of Education does not expect the local school board to “tighten policies.” They only make recommendations. The role of the financial advisor assigned to the school district is to advise regarding financial issues. All decisions regarding the district will be made by the superintendent and the Water Valley Board of Trustees.
By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – The School Board is expected to tighten policies at the school cafeterias after a report showed some students are having pizza and fast food delivered for lunch.
Also, a lot of food and milk are being wasted, according to the report that was generated after a technical assistance visit held Monday through Wednesday, Jan. 11-13.
The visit was made at the request of Suzanne Carter, MDE Financial Consultant for the Water Valley School District.
Gary May, Director of the Office of Child Nutrition, and Lenora Phillips, Child Nutrition Technical Assistance Director, for the Mississippi Department of Education made observations and suggestions for both the elementary and high school cafeteria operations as a result of their visit.
“They talked about the good things that they saw and some things that they could improve on,” Carter told school board members at their Monday, Jan. 19 meeting.
“There are some teachers who need tongue lashings and need to watch ‘Super Nanny’ because there are some things going on in the cafeteria that need to be stopped. One of them is bringing in pizza boxes to feed everybody,” Carter said.
Carter also gave an example of a behavioral situation observed in the elementary school cafeteria. “I don’t know who the child was or who the teacher was. But, the teacher needs to be reprimanded on the behavior of the child because the teacher was not watching the child.
“She should have been, but she was doing so much talking herself that she did not see what was going on while he was painting his face with pudding and went back for more to paint the child across from him,” Carter continued. “That teacher should be watching her class.”
Carter said that one point she wants to make is that if students do not eat in the cafeteria then the school district looses money. She explained that School District Food Director Tonya Smith could only file reimbursement for the students who actually eat lunch.
“If they do not eat lunch, she can not file reimbursement and she will run out of money and can not feed the ones who are forced to eat lunch.”
Carter also talked about excessive food waste and how much unopened milk was thrown away. “Once the milk goes through the line, it can’t go back into the cafeteria. And, they say at least five cartons were thrown away in one class.”
“They do not have to have milk. They don’t have to have it,” Carter emphasized. “Can those unopened cartons not be retrieved, put into a cooler, and donated to a veterinarian, animal shelter, something.”
Carter added that she was disturbed that some teachers are making students take some of every food item being offered. They are only required to take three food items to meet nutritional requirements.
“I am just appalled at the waste,” said Carter. “But, that’s where Tonya is going to come in and get everyone trained…one way or the other. I guess I am just appalled at the lack of knowledge by the teachers. But, Tonya is going to whip them back into shape.”
Board Member Casey Washington asked Carter to clarify. “You said that they are putting food on a kid’s plate that they are not eating.”
Carter answered, “They are going through the line and the teachers are telling the cafeteria workers to give that child everything.”
Superintendent Sammy Higdon said that the problem was in the lower grades and resulted from a lack of communication. “They are just trying to help a kindergarten kid or a first grader get through the line.”
“And,” Carter added, “get them everything because they think they are supposed to get everything.”
District Food Director Smith said that she and her staff would not be trying to take food out of the mouths of the students. “We’re trying to make sure they have a nutritious meal. But, we are trying to stop or cut down on plate waste.”
After a lengthy discussion of the problem, it was decided that the best solution would be to educate students and teachers that only three items are required to make up a meal. And, unwanted items may be shared with classmates.
On the subject of parents bringing outside food to the schools, Higdon said that it is not as much a problem at the elementary school as at the high school.
The Superintendent added that although it is not allowed, it puts the principals in a difficult position trying to stop the practice. “It is going to have to be board policy if we are going to enforce it.”
Washington said that the policy should include teachers as well as students. “If it is fair for one, it has to be fair for both.”
Among the recommendations of the technical assistance visit is to put the soft drink vending machines on timers. The report states that the Student Handbook says no food or drink is to be sold one hour before or one hour after lunch.
“We have attempted that,” Higdon said. “We can attempt it again to see what they can do for us. Our drink sales are next to nothing compared to what they use to be when you could actually sell a Coke. Our problem there is that they bring it from home.”
“To be honest, I could care less if we even had them,” he added. We’re not making any money off it.
District Business Manager Randy Goodwin said that the last commission check was $55 where it used to be around $1000 or $1500 a month.
“You can’t clean the sticky up for that kind of money,” said Board Member Steve Edwards.
Carter asked Smith what happens if a student comes in with a soft drink can.
“My manager and my cashier are both instructed that they are not allowed in the cafeteria unless they are in a Thermos-type bottle,” Smith answered.
Washington asked, “Is telling our children what they can eat or drink not border on socialism? I mean, really.”
Carter answered, “(It is a) violation of competitive food policy and district school policy. If we let them bring in whatever they want from Pizza Hut with a Coke can, then we are taking money from the program.”
“You’ve got to have every dime of reimbursement you can get,” continued Carter. “You’ve got to make them want to eat and not let them bring in their own food and drinks.”
“I guess I am still stuck on this drink thing,” Washington said. “So, if my daughter brings a bag lunch to school and she has a Coca Cola in it, she is not permitted to drink it in the cafeteria?”
“No,” said Smith. “It needs to be in a Thermos.”
Washington said, “If she has the option of chicken noodle or milk and she doesn’t like chicken noodle or milk and she brings to school a ham sandwich and a Coke, she is not going to be able to eat it in the cafeteria.”
“She can eat the ham sandwich,” Board President Lamar Burgess responded. “But, she can’t drink the Coke.”
Washington: “What’s wrong with this picture folks?”
Carter explained that the rule is long standing and that bringing in the Coke would be a violation of the non-competitive food policy.
“I’m her parent,” Washington said. “I understand we have to meet the federal requirement on nutrition. But, we are dictating to our children when they can and can’t bring from home. We’re talking about nourishment, we’re not talking about guns.”
“We’re not talking about what they can bring from home,” Carter said.
“It’s the way they bring it,” added Burgess.
Carter assured Washington that a student could bring food from home as long as met the policy. Also, Higdon explained that when he was principal at the elementary school he would often pour a child’s soft drink into a cup and tell them to bring it in a Thermos next time.
“What if I told you that every day you had to eat this or there was nothing.” Washington said. “That’s not the American way.”
Higdon continued his explanation of the policy by saying that there was no logic in not allowing soft drinks if the reason was nutrition. “But, the intent of the policy was not to encourage it.”
“I am not trying to be a stickler with you folks,” Washington said. “I know it is about the federal regulations. But, it is still socialism anyway.”
“I’ll give you one for instance and then I’ll leave it alone,” Burgess said. He described the problem faced by a teacher who had a student come to school daily with $2 to buy four candy bars.
“We all know four fifty-cent candy bars is not good for anybody. But, that was that parent’s prerogative. Was it good for the child? No, absolutely not. But, did we have a way to dictate to that parent that you can’t do that. No, we couldn’t.”
“Where can we come to a middle of the road point with some of the things USDA Child Nutrition is trying to do. It’s not going to work for everybody and a whole bunch of folks are not going to like it. I think we are going to have to find that middle of the road point and try to live with it.”
“It will become an issue from the community,” Higdon said. “Once you develop a policy the board will have to deal with this issue once or twice along the way.”
Burgess said, “I think we ran into that situation before where you had parents delivering food to the principal’s office and someone having to be responsible for getting that food to the child. (That) shouldn’t even be an issue.”
“There’s no time for that during the day.”