Superintendent Dryden explains Cleburne schools' lunchroom policy
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Aug 23, 2013 | 6417 views |  0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HEFLIN — In a called meeting of the Cleburne County Board of Education Thursday, school Superintendent Claire Dryden addressed complaints about changes in lunchroom policies, stopping at one point to compose herself. It had been a trying day.

She had received unspecified “threats” during the course of the day due to the changes, she said.

Dryden read from a written statement because she didn’t want to be misunderstood, she said. Dryden said the school system is not charging for the use of metal forks and spoons or napkins if a child brings a lunch from home. Dryden said she asked the cafeteria staff at every school if they had charged for any of these items and they all said they had not.

Sabrina Bragg, director of the Child Nutrition Program for the system, on Wednesday told a reporter that napkins were one of the things that the system could not provide for students bringing their lunches from home, unless it charged 10 cents.

The school system is charging for plastic utensils, however, which led to a misunderstanding Tuesday between a student and Rhonda Lines, the manager of the Cleburne County High School lunchroom, Dryden said.

She read a letter from Lines explaining that the student had asked for a fork.

“I thought she wanted a plastic fork, so I told her it would cost her 10 cents,” Dryden read. “The student stated, ‘You mean I have to pay for it?’ I stated, ‘Yes, for a plastic one.’”

The student left without purchasing one, Dryden read.

The metal forks are available free of charge to all students who want one, including those who bring their lunch from home, Dryden said.

The system started charging for extra condiment packages this year in order to become compliant with the federal nutrition guidelines, Dryden said. The federal government reimburses schools for the meals it serves through its 6-cent certification program. One of the requirements to be certified is to follow the very specific nutritional requirements which includes condiments, Dryden read.

“Our school system should have been 6-cent certified last fall,” she said. “This was not accomplished last fall. Therefore we are being audited and must comply or lose funding and possibly be fined.”

Dryden said the changes were not the fault of the cafeteria staff, but a result of the federal requirements. The school system is dependent on the funding to feed its low-income students, she said.

About 1,700 to 1,900 students eat their lunches at Cleburne County schools each day, said Bill Bailey, the former director of the system’s CNP program who is training the new director. About 1,600 of those come from low-income households and receive their meals free or at a reduced price, he added.

“If following these guidelines means that some people are upset about purchasing additional condiments, then I am sorry,” Dryden said. “We will continue to follow federal mandates so that the neediest of our children receive meals.”

With tears in her eyes, her voice cracking with emotion, Dryden apologized for any inconvenience the changes caused. She praised the lunchroom staff for their dedicated work and the coordinator who was working to comply with the federal regulations.

She stopped abruptly.

“I’m sorry,” Dryden said as she paused. “It’s been a long day of threats.”

Dryden went on explain policy in other areas, including dress code changes, the system’s new high school class schedule (fewer classes per day, but more time in each class) and a requirement that high school students weigh themselves for a physical education class.

She left immediately after the meeting without comment.

In other business the board members:

— Approved hiring Jeromy Owen as a teacher for the Cleburne County Elementary School’s after-school program.

— Approved hiring Shane Leggett as custodian at Fruithurst Elementary School.

— Approved hiring Katherine Roland as pre-kindergarten lead teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary School

— Approved maternity leave for Talia Hagan beginning Sept. 23.

— Approved a field trip for the Ranburne High School Band to a Band Competition on Sept. 21.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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