LETTER: Somerset administrator addresses closing, food rumors
This letter is a follow up to numerous e-mail messages and telephone calls the school district received yesterday and today, February 12th and 13th.
Those messages were in regards to two concerns: Closing school on Thursday of this week and the contracted food service program. Let us begin with the closing of school.
School Closing: Making the decision to close school on any given day is a challenge. The decision to close school is always based on the safety of our students. That indeed was the case on Thursday of this week when school was called off for the day.
Yesterday, the secondary roads were covered with a sheet of ice and a thin layer of snow in the early morning. The weather forecast on our four local TV stations predicted 28 to 30 degree temperatures all day with clouds and continued overcast. Both school administrative and bus company personnel drove the secondary roads between 5:20-6:00 a.m.to assess driving conditions. The unanimous conclusion of those drivers was that the roadways were not safe for bus/student traveling due to the numerous hills and valleys on our daily routes. (I was only able to make it up two of those slippery slopes only by using four-wheel drive.) In hindsight, we should have closed school on Monday of this week too, as conditions then were similar to Thursday.
During my 17 years of living in the Somerset community we have not had a late start for school. The word in the district has been that parents in Somerset "don't want late starts." So, no late start was called yesterday. The decision was made to call off school for the whole day. However, given the response we had to yesterday's closing, we think it is time to hear from our parents on this topic.
A survey regarding inclement weather days will be available in all three schools next week during parent teacher conferences. This will be your opportunity, as parents, to provide us with input on how you would like the school district to manage inclement weather days. We will tally the results of the inclement weather survey and report the findings out to all of you. Do contact us if you have additional questions or comments about school closings.
Food Service Program: We have received many inquiries about the contracted food service program at the high school since a story came out in the New Richmond News this past week focused on that topic. Questions and comments about the food service program at the high school may also be directed to me.
The school district contracts our food service with A'viands. A'viands bought out Best, our previous food service provider. This is our first contracted year with A'viands. Our food service areas are routinely and randomly inspected by the county health department. These semi-annual and random food service inspection reports provide positive findings. The goal of our food service program is to provide our students and staff with safe and nutritious meals. The building principals continue to monitor the quality and safeness of our building food service programs. The best information I have is that we are achieving that goal.
The County Health Inspector, working on behalf of the state, did make an unannounced inspection a week or so ago at the high school. The inspector was following up on a complaint that was filed with her office. The inspector's report was positive, with two areas that needed additional review.
The two areas needing additional review had to do with mold and water temperature. I will talk about the mold topic first.
Mold: If mold is found in shredded cheese, the entire bag of cheese is to be discarded and not used. This is the practice that is followed today by state guidelines and will be followed into the future. No mold was found on any food items during the recent inspection.
A small spot or amount of moisture-based surface mold was found on one of the walls of the walk-in cooler. The walk-in cooler was sanitized with bleach and the spot of mold no longer exists. All food service workers continue to be responsible for monitoring and cleaning the walk-in cooler and other food service areas.
Water temperature: The water temperature on the automatic dishwasher was found to not be maintaining the high level of temperature needed during its rinse cycle. This unit has since been replaced with a new hot water heater. The dishwater temperature now is able to exceed the temperature needed for rinsing dishes.
Another question that came up in the last two days has to do with stamped dates on prepackaged food items. The County Health Inspector shared that stamped dates on prepackaged products have numerous meaning, and that prepackaged products may be used beyond the "stamped on" dates. The inspector's report states that prepackaged food items with posted dates indicate a freshness or quality date, not a safety date. For example, the inspector reported that a prepackaged bag of chips may be served, by USDA food codes, after the "stamped on" date if the item looks fresh, tastes fresh, and smells fresh. We have learned a lot about food codes and food practices over the course of the last couple of weeks.
Reports from the three health care offices in our schools show no increase in health care office visits. The number of students reporting to the health care offices in each of our three schools is on average with the number of students who reported to the offices in past years. The number of students with stomach aches and/or headaches has not increased this school year. Do recall this is our first year with A'viands as our food service provider.
In closing, school was closed on Thursday of this week because of icy road conditions on our secondary roads. The food service program was not the reason for the school closing. Our practice is to monitor, assess, and make decisions with a focus on the safety of all students and district employees.
Thank you for your time and entrusting us with your most precious assets, your students!
Somerset School District