MANCHESTER — Students must take a meal at school even if they only want a carton of milk, according to federal regulations presented at the Board of School Committee meeting Monday.
Mayor Ted Gatsas and other school board members reacted with dismay to the rules, which they say have contributed to waste when students, some of whom bring lunches from home and only want milk, toss the school-provided fare in the trash.
“We’re not able to offer the free milk-only option,” Superintendent Debra Livingston told the board. “In order to have the free meal, the students are required to choose the required meal component.”
But, Livingston added, “students are allowed to share directly with each other, and they’re allowed to take items home with them, for example fruit.”
The regulations are set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds much of the district’s free and reduced-price meal program.
Gatsas was incredulous upon hearing about the rules.
“I think it’s paramount we understand when parents sending a child with a lunch, the federal government says we can’t give just milk ... It just doesn’t make a lot of common sense and it’s a waste.”
Ward 10 board member John Avard, who has been critical of several aspects of the school lunch program, called the policy “ridiculous.”
“It sounds like something our government would do,” he said. “We’re making (students) take perfectly good food and throw it away.”
Livingston was asked if it would be possible to set up a receptacle in cafeterias for students to deposit unwanted food, and if this in turn could be reused or donated to charity.
She said she would investigate the possibility. “I understand what you’re saying and I’m in support of it. If we can find a way so food is not wasted, so it can be used by a pantry... then we’ll find a way to do it,” she said.
In other business Monday, the board signed off on the administration’s Innovation Zone Implementation Plan. The zone encompasses seven schools that have previously been identified as in-need-of-improvement and priority schools.
The state Department of Education was heavily involved in developing the plan and will oversee it. Among its components are teacher and assistant principal evaluations, and the hiring of an executive director to oversee the zone.
The schools are: Beech Street School, Gossler Park School, McDonough School, Middle School At Parkside, Parker-Varney School, Southside Middle School and Wilson School.
Student performance in these schools was in the bottom 5 percent of the state over a period of three years, and the schools are recipients of federal funds targeted for low-income students.
The administration hopes to have 60 teachers selected by next month to participate in the committee crafting the Manchester Academic Standards, the district’s alternative to the Common Core state education standards.
Assistant Superintendent David Ryan said the teachers would be selected based on their background in developing standards and their willingness to put in the time. He said the team will be led by an independent facilitator and will be meeting at three Manchester-area locations that have not been identified.