Community District Education Council 22 (CEC 22) held their monthly meeting virtually via Zoom on Tuesday evening, May 3rd to discuss old and new business.
CEC 22 President Jessica Byrne introduced a letter addressed to the Department of Education (DOE) urging the organization to improve the working conditions of Physical and Occupational Therapists employed to support students with special needs. The letter explained that these professionals are grossly underpaid in comparison to their peers who work in the private sector and are not compensated for overtime. Unlike other DOE employees who are granted a paid 50-minute lunch period, PT/OTs are given an unpaid 30-minute lunch period and forced to conduct therapy in storage closets and hallways instead of more appropriate places, like offices and classrooms. The board passed a motion to sign the letter in support.
Also interesting was a very candid and productive conversation between parents and Stephany Bannister of the Office of Food and Nutritional Services, after complaints about food quality were made at a prior council meeting. Bannister explained that the organization conducts frequent student taste tastings and that every item must receive at least a 60% approval rating before it can be added to the citywide menu. She also said that they have removed juice from their menus to avoid excess sugar consumption and that principals have the option to nix chocolate milk altogether and order soy milk for students who are lactose intolerant, on a case by case basis. She announced that the organization has also reduced cold cut offerings and provide fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There have been a number of complaints about a lack of access to halal meals raised in past meetings and the issue of a lack of access to kosher meals was raised at this meeting. A mother explained that many schools do not offer kosher meals and when they do, they usually serve light, vegetarian fare like hummus instead of center of plate items that the other children are offered. Bannister said that there are currently three breakfast and three cold-lunch kosher options, which are provided by certified off-site vendors. She encouraged parents to reach out to her if there was a particular school in question and assured the group that she would work with principals who must opt in to participate, to make sure students in all schools in the District would have access.
A number of parents were concerned about the portions being served. One parent said that her child has a very healthy appetite and that she cannot rely on the amount of food being served at school, so she opts to pack and send her lunch each day at the expense of her time and money. She explained that her child’s lunch period is at 10 a.m. and that she must subsist on snacks through after-school, until she is picked up and eats dinner at home. District 22 Superintendent Julia Bove inquired about having supper served at after-school programs, which Bannister said she would look into.
Other parents were upset that students are not permitted to have second or third lunches if they are still hungry and that there are no more shared tables (where kids can put items they do not want that other kids can take if they are still hungry). Bannister explained that unless a school’s principal has opted out, students have unlimited access to the salad bar to help fill them up if they are still hungry.
Others still complained that school menus do not match what kids are being served on any given day, that there are great disparities in how and what is being served from one cafeteria to the next. Many said that kids are just dumping their entire tray of food and going hungry because the food isn’t fresh or appetizing to them. Parents asked that there be some kind of oversight in terms of food waste to gauge how satisfied kids are with the food being served and that adults be included in tastings since they are still not allowed entry to their kids’ school cafeterias.
Overall, Bannister was extremely receptive to the abundance of feedback she received and assured families that she had taken notes and would bring their suggestions back to her team and see where things could be improved. She also encouraged anyone with concerns to reach out to her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and to let her know if their child’s school may be interested in participating in a tasting.
The next virtual meeting of CEC 22 will be held on Tuesday, June 14th at 6:30 p.m.