Some grandparents and a future grandparent of students at Dexter Consolidated Schools are upset about food provided to students, posting comments online, meeting together to discuss what can be done to improve the situation and planning to talk to members of the Dexter school board.
According to Delma Jurado, Marisol Rodriguez Sanchez and Monica Baca, the quality and types of food provided to Dexter school children has declined in recent years. They said that kids now are offered less fresh food and fewer nutritious options.
Dexter schools superintendent Lesa Dodd, however, has responded that all meals meet the nutritional guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
She also pointed out that the school has provided free breakfasts and lunches to its elementary, middle and high school students for two years.
The situation became a heated one locally on Monday because of a new breakfast item.
Sanchez, a Dexter High School graduate and a grandmother of current students, posted a photo on Facebook that showed the main item offered to elementary students that day — chocolate-chip toast.
“Does everybody know what (their) kids eat at Dexter schools?” the post asked. “Please feed your children before they go to school or they will be hungry all day.”
According to menus posted online on the district’s website, elementary students also were offered applesauce, juice and milk Monday, while middle school and high school students have the option of fruit, milk, juice and a breakfast burrito every day. Dexter also participates in the state “Farm to School” program that provides locally grown fresh fruit and produce, when available, to students.
Dexter schools posted a Facebook reply Tuesday at about noon.
“Thank you for your input! We tried something new for breakfast — chocolate chip toast. Due to some negative responses, we’ve taken it off the menu,” the post stated.
The post also talked about the products now provided by the district’s milk vendor, including fat-free strawberry milk.
Sanchez’s post had received 161 comments and 86 shares by Wednesday afternoon, with many expressing anger or upset about children not being fed properly. The school district’s post had 44 comments and 12 shares. While some people made comments supportive of the district, 39 people indicated they were angry.
Dodd confirmed the removal of the chocolate-chip toast from future menus because of parents’ feedback.
She added, “The district welcomes any menu suggestions from both students and parents.”
As in the case of the Facebook post, Dodd’s statements also provided the email for Food Services Director Shelley Montgomery for people to contact her with suggestions.
The grandparents’ comments are occurring in the background of Dexter school board elections, with early voting starting this month and election day Nov. 5.
The women said they are not aligned with any candidate or motivated for political reasons, but that they would welcome some changes at the district and on the board for several reasons, including the food issues.
“I’ve eaten what these kids eat, and it’s bad,” said Jurado, a former Dexter schools employee who usually takes lunch to her grandchildren once a week.
Jurado also wondered what happened to the $70,000 that Montgomery has told people was saved in the district’s food budget. She said the money should have been used to fix the high school cafeteria’s air conditioner.
Dodd said that the district did realize a one-time $70,000 surplus in its food service budget because a former food service director was able to overstock food in freezers. She said all cafeteria air conditioners are working and that there are plans for replacing elementary and high school air conditioners in the future.
Sanchez said that she preferred it when students always had a choice of cereal for breakfast. She also said she would like to see some hot meal options, including oatmeal. She and Jurado also said that sometimes the burritos and enchiladas are too spicy and they don’t like that condiments appear to have disappeared for sandwiches.
“I just wanted parents to know and parents to feed their kids, to make sure they’re fed before they go to school,” Sanchez said.
She added that she remembers a time when the Dexter schools served turkey on toast, homemade bread, stew and other homemade dishes.
All the women said that some students have to rely on school meals because their parents cannot afford to provide other food. They also believe that some kids won’t tell adults if they are hungry when they don’t eat the school meals. Children are taught from pre-school on, “You get what you get. Don’t complain,” they said.
Monica Baca lives in Artesia but made several comments during the Facebook interactions. She also called the superintendent’s office and said she was waiting to hear from Montgomery to ask her “a million questions.”
“My granddaughter will be coming here,” she said. “We need to fill these kids up. How do we expect them to work at their best if they are not fed well?”
The women said they are glad that the chocolate-chip toast will no longer be served, and they plan to attend the district’s board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday night to talk about their concerns.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.