For the past two years these best friends have thrown out every container of milk offered to them at their middle school cafeteria. They said the expiration date has passed or it smells rank.
One of the science-minded girls also claims she found an isopod, or a slug, when she lifted up the first spoonful of her fruit cup.
The friends, Megan Wells (at left in photo) and Solai Demorest (at right) said they brought their findings to teachers, to no avail.
Officials from the Board of Ed told a different story. They want want to investigate every reported instance of food problems. But they said they doubt such sweeping yuckiness takes place because of all the training and safeguards they have in place.
Those differing points of view both about school food and about bus safety were aired at a public forum Saturday afternoon convened by the activist group Teach Our Children and a newer group of grassroots kid advocates allied with them, Youth UnleashEd.
The scene was the Center Church parish house on Temple Street, where like a married couple who have separated but are still trying to iron out differences in style and content, both the kids and the adults offered their depositions to the public.
A bevy of Board of Ed upper level staff attended along with three or four public school students, nine or ten parents and an equal number of community members.
Several parents reported that incidents of bullying, some recounted from years ago, occurred on buses and were directed at kids with disabilities.
The Board of Ed has 60 buses (out of a total of 268 daily buses carrying 18,000 students) that transport special ed kids; all have monitors on them trained to spot bullying, said school transportation chief Teddi Barra. Other safeguards include cameras, reports that drivers must fill out, and tracking of miles traveled.
“Even if there’s a monitor on the bus, it’s often for the individual child. Or [the monitor] is talking to the drivers. The buses are often wild,” countered parent Megal Ifill.
Barra disagreed. She said bus monitors on vehicles transporting special ed kids are responsible not for an individual child but the full cargo of kids.
Sada Marshall’s 6-year-old seriously disabled daughter now has what her mother says she needs: a van that carries the child and the child alone to and from school every day. Marshall praised Barra for coming through but cited difficulties in communication.
“Now she’s on a bus all by herself because I’ve been such a good advocate,” said Marshall.
School system Chief Operating Officer Will Clark, who attended the Saturday forum with Barra, Deputy Superintendent Garth Harries and other officials, reiterated that the BOE wants to investigate each reported incident.
Clark took issue with TOC’s implication that there is a pervasive problem. “There isn’t necessarily this large problem. [Where] we disagree is assuming a solution prior to investigation, looking at facts. We’d love to see better collaboration with TOC,” he said.
Click here and here for stories about TOC’s often adversarial meetings with the Board of Ed to address problems with textbooks, translation services and materials for Spanish-speaking parents, bullying, and suspensions. Tensions between both sides reemerged recently with a Thanksgiving card sent to the superintendent; read about that here.
That card led to a meeting between TOC and school officials to hash out next steps on food and bus safety. That meeting occurred at the High School in the Community on Thursday afternoon.
It produced results that in many ways made Saturday’s forum anti-climactic, respectful, and even polite.
Thursday’s meeting resulted in an agreement to form a bus transportation committee including Barra, drivers, and TOC parents, according to both TOC and schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith. The BOE insisted on including parents from other active parent groups like the citywide parent leadership team to review policies and problems.
To address food concerns, the BOE reasserted its agreement with TOC that expired foods are unacceptable and promised to double-check rotation policies and training of staff. Students are also being invited onto the district Wellness Committee and to attend the city’s Food Policy Council meetings.
TOC parent Natasha Smith was asked why the public event was held on Saturday after the apparent progress made at Thursday’s meeting. “We don’t need meeting after meeting,” Smith responded. “A public airing is necessary.”