Last night I addressed the school board on the topic of a recent Journal News report New Rochelle School Cafeterias Ranked Worst in Westchester: Ants, Roaches, Rats and Flies. I made the following remarks to the board and then left them a list of the questions asked in those remarks:
Last month at a board meeting, Mr. Organisciak told a parent that all failed health inspections were fixed within 48 hours. Mr. Quinn made a similar statement to the Journal News. One fifth of the failed inspections in 2008 were at Jefferson. There were three health inspections at Jefferson School within a two-week period — 11/3/08, 11/10/08, and 11/13/08. The health inspector came three times because the problems found on 11/3 were not fixed on 11/10 which means that the problems at Jefferson were not fixed for at least 168 hours and as much as 240 hours after the initial inspection — not 48 hours as Mr. Organisciak has claimed. Will Mr. Organisciak revise his previous statement and contact the parent to advise her that he has done so?
Meat thermometers cost 25 dollars. The school budget is well over 200 million dollars. Jefferson failed a health inspection in February 2006 due to failure to provide a thermometer. Both failed inspections that year were due to food temperature issues. There were additional food temperature issues in 2007. In 2009, Mr. Quinn stated that his response to the failed inspections in 2008 was to buy thermometers. Why did Mr. Quinn wait until two years after Jefferson was cited for not having thermometers to buy thermometers?
Most school districts in Westchester had zero failed inspections last year. Almost all of them had 2 or less. We had 10. Why was a plan not put in place and then executed after the failed inspections in 2006. There were 2 more failed inspections in 2007 but still no plan and no action to eliminate the problem. Does the school board believe that four failed inspections in two years is acceptable?
In March 2009, a parent at Ward School sent around an email in which she identified some of the exact same problems mentioned in the failed inspections. Parents at Trinity asked Mr. Organisciak about this email. Mr. Organisciak ridiculed the Ward parent, saying, “consider the source”, effectively denying problems with the cafeterias. We now know what Mr. Organisciak knew when he made that statement, that the parent’s concerns were entirely valid. Does Mr. Organisciak intend to apologize to that Ward parent for ridiculing them for having raised legitimate concerns about health safety issues in the schools?
In its story on the failed inspections in 2007, the Journal News quoted Mr. Quinn as saying about the reports: “They are saying that the condition is unacceptable, but they are not talking about the cafeteria as a whole.” The Journal News then quotes a Health Department official saying, “an unacceptable mark applies to the overall inspection”. Has anyone on the Board explained to Mr. Quinn that a failed inspection does apply to the cafeteria as a whole?
In its stories in both 2007 and 2008 Mr. Quinn sought to justify failed inspections on the grounds that the District is one of the largest in Westchester and serves a million meals a year. In these statements, Mr. Quinn had made clear that he believes that the New Rochelle school district has too many students and serves too many meals for parents to reasonably expect our cafeterias to pass every health inspection. Has the board considered adopting a zero-tolerance policy on cafeteria health safety issues?
My children attend school in this district. They eat the food prepared in these failed cafeterias. Does the Board intend to issue an apology or direct the administration to issue one and make some sort of public commitment to doing a better job?
It has been six weeks since the Journal News report on school cafeteria health inspections. Since that time the community has heard not a single public statement by the BoE or administration acknowledging the problem – in fact, what we heard last month was the opposite, a blanket dismissal of community concerns. There has been no letter home to parents offering some explanation, no promise to do better, no explanation of what you intend to do to make the situation right. Just silence – and a few smirks at the 9/27 board meeting. I would remind the board that we are discussing reports that children entrusted to your care have been fed meals containing rat droppings, insects and bacteria. I fail to see the humor in county health inspection reports that show under the tenure of the people you hired to run our schools we now find ourselves in the embarrassing and sick-making position having the worst cafeterias in Westchester.
It seems to me it ought to be unacceptable that school officials would ignore, ridicule or obfuscate in response to concerns about the school district’s poor health record.