Two weeks after New Haven public schools came under fire for serving potentially nut-contaminated food to students for two consecutive days, the district’s Food Service Task Force convened on Tuesday to discuss how the district addresses allergies, food quality and other issues.
At the meeting, the taskforce discussed the necessity of implementing a district-wide protocol to make sure that children are not exposed to their allergens. According to district’s Food Service Director Gail Sherry, schools in the district have different policies for handling student allergies. In some schools, cafeteria workers are handed a list of students with allergies and are instructed to cross-check each student that comes to the counter for lunch, Gail said.
Still, on Tuesday afternoon, the task force left the meeting with no concrete plans set in motion.
“The majority of NHPS kids receive free lunch,” said Nijija Ife-Waters, who is a New Haven public school parent and president of education reform group Citywide Parent Team. “830 students have an EpiPen. We have to do something, and we’ve got to do it fast.”
In the past, the school district has made efforts to institute policies to better handle student allergies. In April 2017, the district released a memo and committed to developing a “Districtwide Food Allergy Management Plan” — guidelines and protocols for allergies to “provide for consistency.” Such a management plan has yet to be established.
According to school district website, the current task force was formed in March 2018 to “monitor the food program [of the district], receive feedback from parents, students and school staff members and address questions or concerns.”
“Multiple agencies have to be involved, both on the city’s side and the side of the Board of Education,” chief operating officer of New Haven public schools Michael Pinto said at the meeting. “If we firm up the transfer of information, we reduce the likelihood of exposure [to allergens].”
Ife-Waters discussed the distinction between general food sensitivities and anaphylaxis and urged the board to be less “reactive” and more “proactive.” She also said with Halloween approaching, teachers should caution their students to be careful when bringing candy to school.
Others at the meeting underscored the need for a district-wide policy. Without one, “kids can fall through the gaps,” chairman of the task force Matthew Wilcox said.
While the task force did not adopt new policies, it also discussed how to improve food quality and reduce food waste at New Haven public schools.
The district ruled in the past not to serve hot dogs, breaded items or chocolate milk to its students. According to Pinto, this makes New Haven public school district the only district in the United States to not allow chocolate milk.
“How about we have the Board [of Education] sit down and try everything we have the kids eat,” Ife-Waters said. “That will make it affect them.”
New Haven public schools teach 21,635 students.
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