Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lunch Issue at NOVA

Yesterday was my daughter's first day at NOVA alternative high school. She has been looking forward to going to school there ever since the start of the year and her first day did not disappoint.

Except in one area. Students at NOVA have been able to buy healthy vegetarian meals cooked on site, but the NOVA kitchen is closed right now. The weird thing is that no one seems to be able to tell me why. I have some folks saying that it is a liability issue - that there's no insurance in case any one is harmed either in the kitchen or by the food. Some folks say that it's a union issue - Local 609 demands that only union members provide nutrition services on campus. Some folks say that it has to do with the person who runs the kitchen getting certified to provide CTE classes and credits (students work in the kitchen as a Occ Ed class). But no one can actually explain anything to my satisfaction.

I'm trying to get information about the situation, but it has been surprisingly difficult. No one is willing to talk. Everyone refers me to someone else.

I have scraps of information, but I can't make the puzzle pieces fit together.

Is it all about liability? But doesn't the PTSA have some kind of liability coverage through the national organization? If not, then doesn't every PTA event have the same liability? Don't we have the same exposure at every PTA sponsored event involving food? Is it different because the person is an employee instead of a volunteer? As for the possibility of a student being injured, doesn't the District have coverage for the students while they are in school? Why does the liability coverage come through the union? That seems weird and not entirely credible. I mean, if you were injured in a school kitchen you would sue the District, not the union, right?

I haven't heard anything clear about the CTE issue.

You might wonder why not just have the District take over the kitchen and have the chef join the union. While there are some benefits of union membership, there are costs as well. For one thing, the NOVA chef would be the least senior person in the union. That would put her at the top of the list for lay-offs. The union's seniority rules would also allow any more senior person (and EVERYONE is more senior) to take her job assignment. Also, apparently, the union has some opposition to their members acting as instructors for CTE credit.

You might wonder how all of this was done before. Before this year the entire operation was completely unknown to the District. I know. That seems incredible, doesn't it? How could it be that no one in the Child Nutrition Services department noticed that the District was not providing Nutrition Services to a school of 300 students? The whole thing defies belief all the way around the track.

Let us, for the moment, presume good intentions on everyone's part. The resolution that everyone would like would be for the NOVA chef to be able to provide healthy, vegetarian meals (and a vegan alternative) cooked on site and for students to be able to earn CTE credits by working in the kitchen with the chef. How can we make that happen? Maybe the District's Child Nutrition Services accepts control, but doesn't change anything, and the chef joins the union, but the union allows whatever waivers are necessary for her to remain in place and teach. Maybe the chef continues to work under the auspices of the PTSA and some liability insurance is found. It doesn't really matter how it is done, so long as it is done.

So let's get the parties into a room and make it happen. I'm hungry.

39 comments:

zb said...

Wow Charlie, all I can say on this post is that I would never have guessed that your daughter would have attended Nova. Thanks for the reminder not to make assumptions about people.

(and good luck with getting the food back)

teacher99 said...

The Puget Sound Skills Center in Highline SD has a restaurant on campus and provides CTE credits to its students. Slightly different scenario for sure but maybe similar enough that it would be worth contacting.

Was this situation caught by any of the audits, or should it have been?

Ad Hoc said...

How inspiring!!! I wish all high schools offered such a creative (and healthy) option for our children. Though my kids liked the novelty of school cafeteria food when they were little, they won't touch it now. It would be so nice to have a healthy, nutritious choice for them. Keep us posted on the outcome for NOVA, and maybe we can inspire some of our high schools to follow suit!

classof75 said...

you might call Alison Leber or Brita- for suggestions- but from what I know of the district- I would guess the union found out and shut it down
http://www.chefann.com/blog/?p=896

Michael said...

"Local 609 demands that only union members provide nutrition services on campus." This is true. Heard it from the union rep himself.

"Was this situation caught by any of the audits, or should it have been?" That depends on what audit you are referring to.

Charlie Mas said...

I was able to learn some additional details.

PTA insurance extends only to volunteers, not employees, so the chef isn't covered. Nor is the chef covered by the District because she is not a District employee. Again, she would have been covered if she were a volunteer, but not as someone on the grounds in the employ of an entity other than the District.

The "snack" provided by the PTSA at NOVA has operated in a sort of grey market. There have been a lot of official truths which were in opposition with the actual truth. It is in everyone's best interest for the operation to be honest, open, and above-board, so the official truth is the actual truth as well.

Let's remember that every one of the parties to this matter have the best of intentions. They are all honorable people who have the best interests of the students, the staff, and the District at heart.

The District's Nutrition Services department has a legal obligation to assure that the school lunches meet the federal requirements. That keeps the District out of trouble and benefits the students.

What I have been calling lunches at NOVA are officially only "snacks" because they don't comply with federal school lunch standards. But let's acknowledge the truth: these aren't snacks; they are lunches. So if Nutrition Services is going to step in - as they should - the lunches are going to have to be brought into compliance or the District is going to have to seek a waiver from the feds, perhaps by calling the lunches at NOVA a pilot program (not that doing so would be entirely honest and above-board).

The union has a collective bargaining agreement with the District and it is in everyone's best interest that the agreement is kept. Moreover, unions strive to provide good wages, benefits, honest employment practices, and safe working conditions for their members. If the chef at NOVA is going to be a District employee, then she should join the union. After that, we can discuss waivers from various union rules or the collective bargaining agreement for this position. Alternatively, if the position can be classified as a management position union membership would not be required.

In either case - union or not - the District will probably have to make some capital investments in the kitchen at NOVA to bring it up to OSHA standards for workplace safety.

I still don't know the details of the CTE issue that requires resolution, but, as I have said before, these questions can all be resolved when people of good intention come together to resolve them. They cannot be resolved if people don't talk or if people don't work to find resolutions.

My mind reels when I consider the details of the District's procurement contracts. For example, the District has a contract to get their dairy products from a specific vendor. I don't know if the details of that contract prohibit the District from buying dairy products from other vendors outside of that contract, but the NOVA lunches don't get their milk and cheese from District sources. That could be another legal hurdle to clear.

In a funny way, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier for someone to just come up with the money for some liability insurance and to continue business as it has been done in the past - with the lunches being called "snacks" and provided through the PTSA. Then the program can continue outside of all of the legal and contractual framework that doesn't fit this situation.

Ad Hoc said...

Just curious- Does NOVA provide the district approved lunch service in addition to the chef cooked, vegetarian option? If not, do they provide any option for students that are not vegetarian/vegan?

Charlie Mas said...

Seattle Public Schools Nutrition Services does not serve NOVA Alternative High School. There is no District-provided lunch service there.

I believe that students may have the option of eating lunch across the street at Garfield. Of course that option has not been available for the past two years while the Garfield building has been under renovation.

Ad Hoc said...

So, the only lunch option is vegetarian? Does the entire student body vote or have a say in what is served in their cafeteria? If so, do they vote each year? If so, fine. If not, I wouldn't find this type of alternative lunch service acceptable for a large group (even though I would personally love it myself).

Frankie said...

If NOVA finds a way for the lunch service to continue, could it add a non vegetarian option, so it could serve all students?

Charlie Mas said...

A vegetarian option DOES serve all students. While there are people who object to eating meat (and vegans who object to eating any animal product), I'm not aware of anyone who objects to eating vegetables and grains.

Is the suggestion that some students must have a meat option? Is the suggestion that these students have some dietary requirement or moral imperative that requires them to eat animal flesh at midday?

It is a short walk to Ezell's, to Garfield's lunch room or to the AM/PM mini mart for those who need food with a face. It's a little further to General's BBQ, Catfish Corner, or Promenade 23, but probably still within range for lunch.

classof75 said...

My daughter attended Garfield ( old build) for two years & Lincoln for two.
Never had lunch at cafeteria- too yucky- too crowded.
However- she does recommend Ezells highly as well a
Tana Market on Cherry, but Dur Dur Cafe ( also on Cherry) was her fave though & they would also run down to Starbucks @ lunch on Yesler.
( however I agree that a vegetarian meal is healthier and generally tastier and will not kill anybody to eat veggie once a day) it

However, it is a shame to lose the opportunity of planning & preparing meals for Nova students.

I know there are waivers for other things- orchestra instead of PE credits- APP students from Washington getting yellow bus service to Garfield, teacher certification in a crunch, so why can't they allow the staffer to join the food service union- but stay at Nova & not be bumped by someone else with no previous interest in the school.

Frankie said...

"A vegetarian option DOES serve all students."

No Charlie it doesn't. It doesn't serve students who WANT and have the right to eat meat, without having to leave their school during their very short lunch break, and pay for costly restaurant food.

Then Charlie, you say .."It is a short walk to Ezell's, to Garfield's lunch room or to the AM/PM mini mart for those who need food with a face"

That's much like saying that black folks who lived in the south during segregation shouldn't have complained, after all they have their own bathroom down the hall that serves them just as well as the white restrooms.

You are evading the point, which is, that NOVA was excluding children who did not choose a vegetarian/vegan diet, and that simply should not be tolerated in a PUBLIC school.

This is probably one of the reasons or at least part of the reason that NOVA's kitchen was shut down. School kitchens should be regulated, and like it or not, they should meet the FDA nutrition guidelines, including offering a non vegetarian option for those children who choose to eat meat. Just because you don't like eating anything with a face does not give you or the staff at NOVA the right to impose your views on the entire school. Millions of Americans, and most of mainstream America eats meat, and does not agree with your "vegetables and grains serve everyone" exclusive mentality. Meat serves everyone too, regardless of your opposition to eating things with faces or religious beliefs. It nutritionally serves everyone too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for offering a vegetarian and non vegetarian option, but choosing only one or the other is exclusive in either direction, and I'm ashamed of a school like NOVA that touts itself as a democratic school to make this choice.

hschinske said...

I don't see how it violates students' rights to serve them a lunch that doesn't happen to contain any meat, as long as it is a balanced meal. We don't insist that every school breakfast include a meat option -- why would every school lunch need to do so?

I'm curious what the guidelines are now: if one of the entrees for lunch is a tried-and-true familiar food that *happens* not to contain any meat, like macaroni and cheese, does that have to count as the vegetarian option? or would it be possible to have a lunch day with one option being the mac'n'cheese and the other being veggie chili or something?

Helen Schinske (now suddenly remembering her elementary school's mac'n'cheese with cut-up hot dogs -- was THAT why they did it?)

Frankie said...

Serving solely vegetarian meals, though perhaps nutritionally sound, violates students rights because it excludes children who partake in a conventional diet that includes meats and dairy. NOVA is not offering the vegetarian diet in addition to a conventional diet, they are not offering it every other day, or every other week. They are offering it exclusively, every day, as the students sole option. Furthermore, they are telling students who are not vegetarian to go elsewhere for their conventional lunch.

I like the idea of a vegetarian lunch service, and would happily eat all of my meals at school, even though I am not a vegetarian. They are healthy, and attractive, nutritionally sound meals, however I have a problem imposing my views on others. My husband will not eat a meal unless it includes meat, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. And, when in a public institution he has a right to that conventional meal.

Listen, if the shoe were on the other foot and vegetarians were only offered a conventional lunch service with meat in every option, every day, they would be screaming so loud your ears would be ringing. You can't have it both ways.

Michael said...

"for those who need food with a face."

Charlie, that portion of what you wrote shows that you are arrogant, elitist, and pretentious. No wonder you didn't get elected.

Janet M said...

"I'm not aware of anyone who objects to eating vegetables and grains."

Your right not many people object to eating vegetables and grains, but most people eat them in addition to meat with their meals. In other words most people eat vegetables and grain as a side dish to their main dish, which is meat or fish.

"Is the suggestion that some students must have a meat option?"

Ummmmm.......yes


"Is the suggestion that these students have some dietary requirement or moral imperative that requires them to eat animal flesh at midday?"

Students don't NEED a moral imperative or dietary requirement to eat meat. They don't need to justify eating meat to you or to NOVA. That's absurd.

And, lastly your comment about eating things with faces is just plain sarcastic (in an inappropriate way).

Good luck to NOVA getting their food service back. You may have a tricky time when the district gets the full story.

But the real point of this post is that a vegetarian only meal service is exclusive, and not appropriate for a public institution. Just for curiosity - do the students have any say in the matter?

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

The School Board policy H61.01 is interesting in regard to all of this:

http://tinyurl.com/6dnngd

It's absolutely possible to have a nutritionally-balanced meal w/o meat (and I say this as a meat-eater), but whether it provides for an "opportunity to consume enough energy and nutrients to fuel optimal learning and physical development" for avid meat-eaters is a different conversation, I'm sure.

The issue I'm more interested in is the use of school kitchens. We went round and round about this at my son's school last year, whether the parent group could use the cafeteria to prep food for evening potluck events. I seem to recall that both union issues and liability were at play.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

We're looking at The Center School for next year, which I assume has no cafeteria (ditto for my d's independent middle school). I'll continue packing her a nutritious lunch most days--too expensive to eat at the Center House. Most days, I'm lucky if she eats it all.

Teachermom said...

I can't believe that people think a meatless lunch infringes upon someone's rights. In every other school in the district, on many days, the only "vegetarian" option is a yogurt (contains gelatin) and muffin "munchable" or a yogurt and graham(?) "munchable". Loads of sugar, not much substance. There are some good options, but you can't guarantee they are there. One day I bought lunch because the menu said there would be cheese pizza, and when I bit into what I was told was cheese pizza, there was pepperoni in it. I couldn't eat it. There was no cheese pizza at all that day.

My son has been a vegetarian his whole life. If he eats meat, not only will he be very upset, he will likely get very ill. Can you really say the same for a child who is "forced" to eat an entree sized portion of something he/she is only accustomed to eating as a side?

He has to bring lunch every day because of this. Maybe kids who have to have meat at lunch can bring their meat and add it to their school lunch.

Factory farm meat and dairy companies have deals with the government to ensure that their product takes center stage in the school lunch program. That might be why lunches that contain healthy, vegetarian and local ingredients only have "snack" status.

I hope NOVA's program returns intact.

classof75 said...

I don't eat meat most days- however- lots of ways to get protein.
Meat is pretty expensive- both in dollar amount & environmental impact.

I don't think that we can afford that anymore .

Nova is also an alternative school, which means it is a CHOICE.
Funny, but no one cared that my daughter didn't have a choice other than commodity orange cheese on dairy days, or mystery meatish product on meat days in a previous school.

Id rather that vegetarian meals be prepared in the kitchen in the building where they will be consumed!
what a concept.

Interesting site.
www.foodmuseum.com/issuesschoollunch.html

Incidentally- I feel it is a travesty what they are feeding kids in many buildings. When my D attended a school with high FRL %, these were the only kids who ate breakfast at the school. Breakfast was either stale cereal with milk or over sweetened yogurt with " waffle sticks"
Lunch was equally unappetizing.
For kids that need to eat breakfast & lunch @ school- the food is critical to their success in school.
Can't we make it better?

Tom said...

It is my understanding that

(1) Federal regulation for food programs is only required when the school (and school district) is getting federal subsidies for those food programs.

(2) Nutrition guidelines from the federal government concerning school lunches can be met by an all vegetarian diet, including calories, numbers of serving for protein, grains, and fruits and vegetables. If this was not possible, there would be no vegetarian lunch options in a federally funded lunch program (like Seattle's). There are vegetarian options in the Seattle lunch program.

(3) That it can in fact be cheaper to serve complying vegetarian meals for the school (and school district).
Find out more here:
http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/regulations.htm

hschinske said...

Well, people eat about 21 meals a week, so having at most 5 of them be forced vegetarian doesn't seem too terrible to me, though I can see there might be policy reasons for not doing so. Keen meat-eaters who don't want to bring lunch could move some of their meat consumption to breakfast or after-school snack, or have an extra helping at dinner. I find it a little odd that anyone would defend the kind of meat that typically turns up in cafeteria food!

I guess the way I see it, one has so little choice in the quality of cafeteria food that the question of meat versus meatless seems like a meaningless place to draw a line.

Janet M said...

If you had a chef cooking vegetarian food, why not ask him/her to cook meat too? With a chef cooking it, instead of the mass produced school cafeteria version you wouldn't have the food quality issue that hschinske mentions..

Charlie Mas said...

Wow. If I were to choose one of my comments to indicate that I'm arrogant, elitist and pretentious, I don't think it would be the "food with a face" quip. There are many others to choose from which make the case much better. Look around; you'll find them.

"Food with a face" is a common expression. It is in no way original to me. I use it simply as part of my constant effort towards more picturesque language.

As for whether a meat option should be required without someone having a dietary requirement or a moral imperative to eat meat at every meal, yes, that is the test. That's why vegetarian meals are available as an alternative in other contexts. Without the dietary requirement or moral imperative, the two are not on an equal footing as far as rights go.

Yes, students have a right to a nutritious meal. But they do not have a specific right to having some form of meat in their meal in the absence of a dietary requirement or a moral imperative.

For the record, there is nothing particularly traditional or conventional about having meat at every meal. In fact, it would be extraordinary to do so. At almost no time in almost no human culture have a people eaten meat as part of every meal. The Inuit leap to mind as a possible exception.

Beyond that, there is no obligation on NOVA to be conventional.

Of course no one needs to justify eating meat. I'm glad we can agree that is an absurd suggestion. I didn't make it - no one did. While we're at it, there are a number of other absurd suggestions I didn't make. Shall we list those as well? Let's not since they wouldn't have any relevance to this discussion either. Agreed. No one has to justify their choice to eat meat. At the same time, no one has to provide meat or justify the choice not to provide it. There is no right to a meat option.

The choice to serve vegetarian meals is not equivalent to separate facilities for non-whites. The suggestion belittles the civil rights efforts in this country during our lifetimes. Meat-eating is a choice, not genetic. People are not driven off to separate but equal amenities based on forces outside their control. Please tone down that rhetoric as it is insulting to those who were part of the struggle.

As for the question of whether the NOVA community voted on the exclusively vegetarian menu, I would suspect that they did as NOVA is an intensely democratic community. I don't know if that would change the view of those who seem to think that having meals with meat is a civil right (such as Frankie - where exactly is this civil right in the constitution?). In fact, I hope it does not as we should not subject people's civil rights to a vote.

How many of you presume that I am a vegetarian? I'm not. I eat meat on a fairly regular basis, as part of probably eight to twelve meals a week, two breakfasts, three to five lunches, and three to five dinners.

This isn't about what the contents meals have been or will be in future. This is about providing meal service at a school full of growing teens.

Charlie Mas said...

hi, dad sorry to use your account but i do not have one myself.

im leila, charlie's daughter.

if you know anything about nova, and are not just being angry to be angry, you would know that most of the kids there are vegan or at least vegitarian.

it is an alternative school with "alternative" beilefs, it is tres easygoing and anyone there would be HAPPY for a hot meal which they can comsume under their own dietary needs.

what meat-eater would mind a warm, organic, un-plastic wrapped lunch? i can think of none i know.

so what are your problems! as an onlooker who is involved in actuality, why complain about the trivial side note that is the actual lunch, why dont YOU make a difference and contribute to the liabitility concerns? what compells you to argue off topic?

we wont have a prejudicided, elitist, or segregated lunch in the first place if you cant chill out and post a true suggestion.

thank you to the other members who have cared and been helping. check out the school, its amazing times ten.

anonyms said...

Leila- I hope the amazing, democratic, vegetarian, NOVA will teach you to capitalize the first letter in your name and the first letter in each sentence that you write! While they're at it they should teach you to always capitalize I when it is it's own word in a sentence, and how to properly use punctuations in your contractions (im VS. I'm).

Tres laid back alright.

Johnny Calcagno said...

As a vegan of 24 years, and a member of an alternative school community (TOPS), I am LOVING this thread!

A question and a comment:

Question about PTA insurance, to anyone who knows:

Are there standard policies, and is it universally true that employees aren't covered?

To "anonyms" -

I'm guessing that Leila can handle the rules of capitalization when she chooses.
Your somewhat mean commments would have had more impact if you had used the correct spelling of "très."

Charlie Mas said...

Leila was bemused that her comment about keeping the discussion on topic was used as a launching point for another off-topic comment.

I suspect that people are not familiar with the food service that comes to NOVA in the absence of meals cooked on the premises. The students get a choice of plastic wrapped sandwiches - one with meat, one vegetarian. Neither are appealing to the students.

To a certain extent, this problem has, at its root, Seattle Public Schools' refusal to make capital investments in buildings that house alternative programs with a few shining exceptions such as TOPS, The African-American Academy and The New School. How were the schools and projects chosen for BEX III? I can tell you what they didn't do. They didn't choose the oldest buildings or those in the worst condition, or those with the greatest need. Otherwise they would have renovated Horace Mann (the building that houses NOVA) with an Educational Adequacy score of 4.7 (higher is worse). Rank the school buildings with the worst ratings in the Meng analysis and see where you find the alternative programs. Think about it: Wilson-Pacific, John Marshall, Pinehurst (4.0), Old Hay, Genesee Hill (4.3), Lowell, Decatur (3.7), Columbia (3.7) - all of these buildings are home to schools that are not neighborhood schools. All of them are in some of the worst shape of any of the school buildings in the District. Had the District renovated Horace Mann in BEX III, the building would have a kitchen that meets the District's standards and the PTSA wouldn't have to create a grey market meal option for the students.

Honestly, I wonder what a liability policy for the NOVA kitchen would cost. That would solve everything.

Janet M said...

Charlie, I have not heard one argument or comment in favor of serving the repulsive SPS pre-packaged (or worse) lunches. Have you?? I think we can all agree that SPS food is horrible.

The argument is one of exclusion. Excluding children who are not vegetarian/vegan. Telling kids who may want a ham sandwich to go elsewhere to get it.

I will ask again. If you have a chef at NOVA cooking home cooked vegetarian meals, why not have him/her add a meat option to the menu, even if not every day? Why wouldn't a democratic school like NOVA strive to be inclusive??

I'm truly puzzled.

zb said...

Are people really defending the inalienable right to a ham sandwich?

I think you'all are falling into the trap of thinking that there is a "conventional" diet, especially for a school system as diverse as SPS.

It is appropriate to question whether the lunches are nutritionally balanced, though (especially vegan, which can be balanced, but requires non-trivial planning).

Charlie Mas said...

I know that janet m sees her perspective with perfect clarity. I, however, just don't get it. No kidding around here. I can tell that this is an issue for her and for others, but I can't what the issue is.

While I recognize the existance of vegetarians, I don't recall ever coming across a "meat-atarian" such as the one depicted in a current television commercial for Wendy's. I just don't see it as a choice that needs to be accomodated because I don't know anyone who rejects meals that do not contain meat.

I eat meat as part of many of my meals. I like it and I eat it unapologetically. I look in my mouth and I see the dentation of an omnivore. I am in no way anti-meat. I am also generally reliable as a defender of choice and rights. I just don't see this as a choice or a right that needs to be defended. I am not aware of any student at NOVA making this demand, so the question is likely academic. In the absence of any meals of any kind cooked on site, the question is unquestionably academic.

One of the questions has been if there was a vote. What if the students and staff had voted and decided not to offer a meat option? Would that make it okay? That would be democratic, but not inclusive. If access to meat were a civil right, then we should not subject it to a vote but guarantee it as a principle. Access to meat, however, is not a civil right.

The kitchen at NOVA is basically tucked in under a staircase. It is regarded by the District as too small to do the job it has been doing for the past four years. I daresay that the chef cannot prepare a third lunch option in addition to the vegetarian and the vegan one. Does that make it okay to skip a meat option?

It is true that students wanting to eat meat are out of luck if they are buying the "snack" at NOVA. Of course any student who is looking to name their choice of entree is out of luck at any school if that is not what they are serving that day. It's not a full menu restaurant.

Imagine if you had to serve meals to 300 people every day and a significant number of those people were vegetarians. Wouldn't it make sense to offer vegetarian fare knowing that it was the inclusive choice because it is something that everyone can eat?

Dorothy said...

Wow, what rancor. And as Leila said, not really the issue. (But hey, Leila, any teen with a Facebook page could certainly create her own blogger identity to make sure there's absolutely positively no problem with your dad. And in the couple minutes it took to do that and sign in, one could rethink the tone of one's note. Consider one's audience and all that.)

Seriously. For all of us not at Nova, arguing over the(currently hypothetical) menu is as useful and interesting as arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I might as well join in anyway and declare that my son is allergic to legumes, especially soybeans. Therefore all institutional cafeteria food is off limits and has always been off limits. Soy protein is universally added as a cheap filler. My kid, who would actually prefer to be vegetarian and spare the faces, simply cannot get a balanced diet sans animal protein. And he cannot eat a legume without getting sick. The Nova organic, groovy food might have worked for him, but given that there's a vegan option every day, I'd have to know more. It's possible the whole meal was often legume based and therefore, if he attended Nova, and if we rolled back the clock to before this year, he might not have been able to partake. There goes the argument that everyone could be served at Nova. But whatever. Forty thousand angels can waltz on a pin.

I posit the real issue is more along these lines: SPS serves too much crap in (the classrooms as well as) the cafeteria. If the school is big enough to have lunch ladies, it might be slightly better crap than the stuff brought in from the central kitchen. So when we hear that one small school has figured out a way to break some rules and serve better food, what's the all too human reaction? Do we all rally around and say, woo hoo, go Nova, ain't that grand for them! or is this just one more kick in the gut about how there may be pockets of goodness in the district, but not for my kid.

Charlie, the reason why your tone here led to some angry comments is partly due to the food-with-a-face --- just because you didn't coin the term doesn't mean that it isn't going to push some buttons --- but also due to the issue and way it was presented. You shared some information that most of us had never heard, that Nova had this alternate food thing going, but that it was breaking rules. The district (or someone) found out and stopped it. I caught a wiff of union-shhmunion in your tone, a bit of "how can we continue to break the rules?" and I think that just doesn't go over very well. Arguing that their special status should continue because the food provided by the district isn't appealing to Nova students isn't likely to win converts, because, does anyone find it appealing? (So let's attack the issue district wide. That would make your idea of a pilot program at Nova more positive for all, perhaps.)

You did follow up with more information, more thoughtful and less "my kid's school is special and therefore should be able to bend the rules." Participating into the food fight didn't help though.

I don't know about the Nova thing. Frankly, it is the sort of thing that as a mom, kicks me in the gut a twinge. But, whatever. From my perspective, it doesn't really matter. My kid isn't and won't be at Nova. He's now got open campus with several places to purchase edible and nutritious food near school so he finally has an option to brown bagging. Some kids never get that option, but whatever. We clearly don't have the whole story. It is also possible that the decision of the menu is also based on food preparation guidelines. Food safety for handling and cooking meat has complexities of its own. And eliminating meat may mean more kids with religious restrictions can eat. I don't know. I wish the whole district could be persuaded to provide better food.

I think this is just one more example though, of how the district is a mess. And then something comes up where parents fight for the little bit of something nicer they've managed to get working at one school, even if it's against policy or something. Time after time, when parents fight to save something their kids have and use the argument that their kid's school is special and therefore shouldn't have to conform.... well. No matter whether that really is a rational argument or not for that particular instance, it gets the hackles up for have-not parents.

Certainly not unique to Seattle, there's this tension for parents. Work to change the entire system and it may take 10 years if ever, or work to make sure your kid gets a good education. Doing both (something Charlie and Mel do more that most of us)is a challenge.

classof75 said...

The argument is one of exclusion. Excluding children who are not vegetarian/vegan. Telling kids who may want a ham sandwich to go elsewhere to get it.

As opposed to other schools I've seen where students who want something palatable & a place to sit to enjoy it are forced to go elsewhere.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Dorothy makes a tons of valid points.

One of the big problems with SPS and their entire system is that there can be such huge differences between schools and programs covering everything from curriculum and, now we see, lunches.

Though I am not an advocate of lock-step standardized curriculum (or anything for that matter), the current system is unfair and a cause for tremendous animosity between parents when comparing schools.

NOW...back to lunch.

Why can't high school students be responsible for their own lunches--especially in smaller, alternative schools? A lunch brought from home is the cheapest option all around. I know some schools allow students access to microwaves, so lunches can be heated, and there are plenty of nifty thermos-like options to keep food hot/cold. And, as Dorothy noted, they usually have an off-campus option for the occasional treat.

Students who bring their own lunch would get exactly what they wanted to eat and they'd save time (no waiting in line or having to go off campus) and money. I know this is a simplistic argument, but I can't see putting a lot of energy into fighting about what type of food should be served since, as Dorothy pointed out, the District is very diverse and students' needs and tastes run the gamut of food choices. It's hard to see how any lunch menu could be all things to all people.

Gabrielle said...

Are schools required to provide lunch in order to serve FRE students?

Keepin'On said...

Oh. My. God. This is the DUMBEST thread we have ever had on this blog.

Melissa - where are you when we need you?

Maureen said...

I actually find this Nova/lunch thing interesting (It never would have occured to me that someone might consider meat eating a right, wow!) But I miss Melissa as well!

If she were blogging, I expect she would have posted some links to the articles spun off from Sandra Tsing Loh's new book "Mother on Fire." One excerpt of a NYT piece

(Sept 9th: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/the-rantings-of-a-pta-mom/index.html?scp=1&sq=loh&st=cse )

that caught my eye is:

"....Research done by Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, indicates that poor children benefit hugely by mixing, daily, with middle-class children (particularly those from families who value education). Conversely, as long as the deleterious effects of poverty, like rampant absenteeism and serious health issues, do not overwhelm the school culture, middle-class children suffer no ill effects. Furthermore, studies have shown that new immigrant children learn English faster and master the complex linguistic skills they need to succeed on standardized tests when they are in classrooms with native English speakers. Sadly, because of the widespread flight of higher-minded families, ethnic segregation (not to mention class segregation) in public schools today is so extreme that only one in five immigrant children will have even one native English-speaking friend."

She makes many other points that would make for great discussion (Denise Gonzalez Walker has some going at "Chalkboard") but I would like to talk about how this language/class segregation plays out in Seattle's public schools.

Is one of the regulars willing to post on this subject?

hschinske said...

My kids have quite a few friends who are immigrants (and no, I'm not even counting all the ones whose parents came for high-tech jobs and the like, who don't fit the demographic the article was probably talking about). I remember one of my daughters asking a friend of hers why he didn't bring a baby picture for a class project or something, and getting the answer that cameras weren't his parents' highest priority in the refugee camps, so he didn't have any baby pictures.

If you count all the students whose parents are foreign-born, or all the bilingual students, then close to half of my kids' friends and acquaintances are in that category.

Helen Schinske