Future of RPS school meals, attendance requirement among sick students uncertain after board meeting

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Cold food served to students has disheartened and concerned students, parents and staff among the Richmond public school system, prompting debate on how to fix apparent problems, during Monday night’s board meeting.

Superintendent Jason Kamras acknowledged that school meals this year have been “substandard,” after the district opted for prepackaged meals to begin the school year; a move prompted as a pandemic precaution, and due to a cafeteria staffing shortage.

At the board meeting, Kamras said RPS would require weekly meal quality control checks; including proper temperature and quality standard review.

Schools will also begin monitoring what meals students aren’t eating in order to make adjustments to menus.

Board member Mariah White had moved for RPS to give a 30-day cancellation notice to their current food service vendor, and have the district work to secure an emergency contract with a local food vendor or restaurant as they work on a more permanent solution. The motion failed in a five to four vote.

Kamras said RPS will make prepackaged hot meals available to pre-k and elementary school students in the upcoming weeks.

As for middle and high school students, he explained that the prepackaged meals won’t provide them with enough calories. Instead, the school district hopes to hire more cafeteria workers so that meals can be cooked on-site.

Currently, they need almost 100 cafeteria staff members.

Food service is not the only place where the school district is experiencing staff shortages. RPS is down 11 bus drivers, causing delays for pre-k and extended day students, and 66 teachers. The largest teacher shortage is at the middle school level where 35 positions are open.

The school board also spent time at the meeting discussing a possible change to student attendance policies.

The meeting agenda included plans to vote on waiving an existing attendance policy that says high school students cannot miss more than 18 days without losing course credit. This change was requested by school administration to help accommodate students in case they are quarantined for COVID-19 symptoms.

According to Chief Engagement Officer Shadae Thomas Harris, there have been 2,395 RPS student “no shows” so far this school year. A school board member said 359 of the absences were virtual students. There are still questions surrounding how the language of the waiver request would impact these virtual learners.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said there is currently no mechanism in place that would allow families to keep their child home and absent from school for an extended period of time while remaining enrolled. He suggested pushing the vote on the waiver to the next meeting.

The board tabled the vote and unanimously agreed to discuss the waiver at a future meeting.

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