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Richmond has a school lunch problem: 'Just doesn't make any sense'

Posted at 1:12 PM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 18:53:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Some Richmond Public School parents expressed their frustration over the school district serving only cold lunch meals to students so far this school year. Those parents spoke at Monday night's Richmond School Board meeting.

"This is not good enough for me and it shouldn’t be good enough for any of you," Emily Kavanaugh said to Richmond School Board members during the meeting. “I’m not okay with this. I think that we’ve done a great job trying to feed our students, but I think we can pick up the pace from mystery sandwiches and toddler size juice boxes."

The concern comes less than a week after the start of Richmond's school year.

"On Thursday, RPS students were given to cheese sticks a bag of Doritos, and a few strawberries," one parent said. "This was given to all grade levels, including my high schooler in [Thomas Jefferson], and another school preschoolers are not allowed to bring a bag lunch. Why is that happening?"

Richmond School Board Vice-Chair Jonathan Young said the school district switched to cold lunches over the summer to keep in line with COVID protocols. But that, he said, was then.

"What we're doing right now just doesn't make any sense," Young admitted. "A decision was made to transition because of COVID to these prepackaged meals that comports with what we did when we were out of school the past year and a half and delivering food on our buses."

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Richmond school lunch

"But the truth is, it's, it's time for us to transition back to the kind of meals that we had prior to COVID," he added. "Our students just aren't eating the bottom line, they don't want what we're what we're providing them, they're throwing it away."

He said another reason for the switch to cold meals was the lack of cafeteria workers. At full staff, Richmond employs 278 cafeteria workers. Right now, the city school system has 117 cafeteria vacancies.

"Clearly something went wrong the first couple days of school with some of the meals," Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras said at the meeting. "I hesitate to call them meals given the testimony we heard. That is being addresses to rectify and make sure they are nutritious and appealing as well."

Parents also claimed several preschools turned down parents packing their own lunches for students. That, Young said, went against school policy.

"That needs to stop. That needs to end right now," Young said.

Young students throwing away the cold lunches is costing the school district over $30,000 a day.

"If my calculations are correct, we are throwing away or discarding something like $35,000 worth of food every day, it's morally unconscionable for a school district to be throwing away $30,000 worth of food every day just violates all our, all of our norms," Young said.

Young said the school district plans to meet on Tuesday to discuss further steps in getting more workers hired and hot meals back into the hands of students.

"We have to hire up and we have to hire out fast," Young said.