Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Southeast students served raw onions as snack

No matter how you slice it, the days of milk and cookies are long gone as schools aim to provide students with healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks.
But raw onions?

That's what several classes of students at Southeast's Turner Elementary were fed Tuesday, instead of the zucchini slices the school's food provider, Chartwells, said it would serve as part of a federal initiative to provide healthy food to young learners.

When Trevor Rill picked up the snack bags from the cafeteria for his third-grade class, he found bundles of raw scallions -- those long, green stalks of onion usually reserved for cooking.

"I asked the cafeteria workers, 'Are you serious?' and they said, 'This is what they sent us,'" said Rill, one of nine City Year corps members assigned to Turner. "So I held them out and said, 'This is what we have,' and the kids went nuts. Two of them ate it in front of me and said, 'This is disgusting.'"

Turner Elementary is one of the District's 53 public elementary schools participating in the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Under the 2008 farm bill, the District received $1.2 million this school year to serve students a vegetable or piece of fruit outside of breakfast and lunch hours. The program is likely to expand to more schools next year as funding increases to $1.7 million.

The school system contracts with three food providers, but Chartwells serves the majority of schools, including Turner. Chartwells' executive director and dietician did not return calls from The Washington Examiner seeking comment.

Sandra Schlicker, director of wellness and nutrition services for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, said Chartwells officials confirmed that the scallions were intended as a lunch ingredient, but because of a mix-up, were packaged as the day's snack. Turner's principal intercepted the onions before they reached all classrooms, but "some of the scallions were served to students," Schlicker confirmed.

D.C. Public Schools also acknowledged the incident, saying "school administration took quick action" and that "ultimately students were served apples." As for Chartwells, DCPS "is confident that this was an isolated event," spokeswoman Safiya Simmons said.

Because he "grew up in the sticks of Maryland," Rill said he took a few bites. Some of the kids brought the scallions home for their parents to cook with dinner.

But "A lot of the teachers were outraged and frustrated," said Rachel Dougherty, who assists a first-grade classroom.

Dougherty's class did not receive the snack bags -- but when she took a student out in the hall to discuss his behavior, the student found a discarded bag of scallions in the hallway. "He picked it up and started chewing on them and made these really gross-out faces, and said, 'I'm so glad we didn't get a snack today."