Community News — 18 September 2009

Even in the middle of what school officials called one of their smoothest back-to-school periods ever, some things did not quite work out as swimmingly as they had originally hoped.

On September 8, the first day of school at the George Washington Middle School campus, students in G.W. 2 one of the two new middle schools created in the historic building arrived for breakfast and found it in the schools auxiliary gymnasium.

The location was upsetting for some students and parents who felt the first meal of the day should like lunch be served to students of both G.W. 1 and G.W. 2 in the buildings cafeteria.

What made the parents concerned was when the children went to school Tuesday, the kids in [G.W. 2] were served their food in the gymnasium and had to sit on the floor eating their breakfast, said Dorothy Turner, grandmother of a G.W. 2 student.

According to Turner, this led parents to feel that their children were being treated as second-class students, having to eat breakfast under what they considered questionable sanitary conditions.

Its making the children feel that theyve been discriminated against and we feel that things shouldve been already in place at the time, Turner said.

By Thursday, the parents concerns had reached the central office of Alexandria City Public Schools as well as members of the School Board, who addressed that glitch along with a few others at their meeting later that night.

I would like our parents to be reassured that their students will be eating in the cafeteria or know what the alternative is to make sure that all of the students in academy 2 will have access to that shared space, said Blanche Maness, the board member who first broached the topic.

We probably want to make sure this glitch is ironed out, Maness said.

According to school leaders, the decision was made to have G.W. 2 students eat in the gym rather than the cafeteria because it was closer to their classrooms and would provide a few extra minutes to finish their food.

The rationale for having students eat there was to give students more time to eat because that area is near where their classrooms are, said Margee Walsh, ACPS executive director of secondary programs.

The amount of time they have from when the buses get there and when they have to get to their first period is less than 10 minutes for most students, Walsh said at Thursdays School Board meeting. The goal was to have more students eat breakfast.

Last year, kids whose classrooms were furthest away from the cafeteria were not eating [breakfast] and we wanted them to eat, she added.

The school set up an additional cafeteria line in G.W.s auxiliary gym to accommodate breakfast, but tables and chairs had not made it there, leading students to resort to the floor or bleachers to eat their meal.

At Thursdays School Board meeting, school leaders said tables and chairs were ordered and expedited to G.W. for students eating in the gym, something that Turner said had made a difference on Friday but still left some people feeling slighted despite the fact that school officials were very apologetic.

Theyre still not satisfied because the basis isnt the table and chairs, its how theyre segregated and eating in the gym, Turner said.

District-wide, the schools serve some 2,575 breakfasts and 7,232 lunches each day to the school population, Superintendent Morton Sherman said during Thursdays meeting.

On top of integrating new bus routes, opening five new middle schools and some ongoing construction projects all of which ended up with fewer problems than ever before, Sherman said the decision to have G.W. 2 students take breakfast in their gymnasium was one of thousands of choices made in the back-to-school process.

There are always glitches in an opening of a school year, Sherman said. Were talking about thousands and thousands of decisions being made and we are, after all, a human institution and occasionally humans dont get everything right.

It was a glitch, Walsh said Wednesday about the lack of tables for breakfast on opening day. It would never have been something intentional and we dont take it lightly at all.

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