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Wellesley students criticize school food

Despite petition, panel supports renewing contract

A parade of children complained to Wellesley school officials Tuesday about the meals they’re served at school, saying some of the food is expired and the portions are so small they’re left hungry.

Nevertheless, the School Committee’s food service subcommittee recommended that the district should enter contract negotiations with the private food service vendor, Chartwells, for another year.

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Chartwells is on its first one-year contract with the district. The School Committee will take a final vote on the recommendation on April 10.

Seven students from Hardy Elementary School spoke before the board, describing instances when they were served expired milk and carrots. Sometimes, they said, they felt sick after eating.

“We deserve better lunches,’’ said fifth-grader Brooke Baker, 11. “If we’re not focused in school then we’re not going to learn anything new.’’

Holly Detroy, the town Health Department’s environmental health specialist, said her department had not received any complaints about children becoming sick at Hardy or any other schools in town.

In an e-mail sent Friday to Chartwells and school officials, Detroy said that during inspections of school food-service operations within the past two weeks, she had noted “significant progress.’’

‘We deserve better lunches. If we’re not focused in school then we’re not going to learn.’

Brooke Baker Hardy School fifth-grader
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Chartwells, she wrote, is doing an excellent job, and staff are well trained and demonstrate knowledge of safe food handling.

For last week’s school board meeting, the students brought a petition that they said was signed by nearly 75 Hardy students and teachers. They had redacted the names of the teachers, however.

“These people think that Hardy should not have milk that is sometimes expired and lunch food that is squished together on a small tray,’’ said the petition, which was organized by fifth-grader Isabelle Kressy, 11. “In the cold lunch we sometimes get little grahams that have a cup of sunflower butter and half [sic] to put the sunflower butter into the grahams and eat it. It’s not enough to feed us for lunch.’’

Some of the children’s parents spoke, saying that their children complained often about the food, and would skip meals at school.

“My daughter has told me that the choices are not palatable and the food is soggy,’’ said Phylliss Hill. “A lot of them go without lunch.’’

Chartwells has been a sore spot for the town, already mired in a series of controversies involving the school business office that began last spring. The district privatized the food service program starting in the fall, laying off town workers and bringing in Chartwells.

Earlier this school year, the cafeterias at several schools were cited for health code violations, including food kept at unsafe temperatures, improper log-keeping by staff, and a lack of sneeze guards.

Detroy said Chartwells has made good progress in complying with health regulations.

School Committee members acknowledged that there have been instances when children were served expired milk.

The School Committee said the portion sizes that the children complained about are regulated by the federal government.

Keri DuBois-Gould, director of the Chartwells operation in Wellesley, said the concerns raised by the children were new to her.

“Our quality assurance department and our onsite team underwent a Department of Health inspection on March 12, 2012, and no critical violations were noted,’’ she said in a statement. “We were unaware of any new issues.’’

School Committee chairwoman Littlefield said she was upset by the students’ feedback.

“I have to admit I’m really worried. Here we are in late March and these are some basic food issues,’’ she said.

Littlefield said that she was still weighing the subcommittee’s recommendation to negotiate another contract with Chartwells.

Several former food service employees who lost their jobs when the district privatized have pushed to oust Chartwells and get their jobs back, delivering a petition with more than 500 signatures to the School Committee in December.

Asked whether a return to in-house food service was still an option on the table, School Committee members said they would see where they are on April 10.

The subcommittee’s recommendation to enter into contract negotiations with Chartwells for another year upset former food service workers.

“I find it unfair why you would even consider recommending them another year,’’ said Franny Campbell, who worked for the district for 17 years before losing her job. “Why, I don’t know. I would think you would want to end this.’’

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