Parents and grandparents no longer invited to school lunch week

PAT FRIDGEN

A time-honored tradition has quietly come to an end in the Greencastle-Antrim School District. Parents Week and Grandparents Week have been dropped from the calendar. Effective immediately, the only people allowed to eat lunch with a child must have approved G-ASD volunteer status. That includes clearances through state and federal screenings and a tuberculosis examination.

Administrators claim the action was necessary in the interest of safety and security for students in the primary and elementary schools. During the special weeks, adults entered the buildings to eat lunch in the cafeteria with their child or grandchild. The attendance was spaced over the five days, with relatives of children in specific classrooms assigned a particular day, and registration was required in advance so the cafeteria staff could prepare the proper amount of food.

The programs were popular, with hundreds of adults visiting. They are still welcome to come in during the course of the year, according to school officials, but the concerted weeks dedicated to parents and grandparents are history.

"The decision came from administrative discussions," said Superintendent C. Gregory Hoover. "People were coming in at the most vulnerable time, with all the kids in one place. The noontime aides have enough to do. We are being proactive."

He added that even with notice of the number of adults coming in for the weeks, there were times the cafeteria ran out of food or had too much. The margin of error should be reduced if people visited in small numbers throughout the year.

The screening is mandatory for everyone volunteering in the school district. The district hosted a Volunteer Screening Fair Tuesday night, as it did last year. Paperwork was available for the Act 34 Criminal Record Check conducted by Pennsylvania State Police, and for the Act 151 Child Abuse History Clearance conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. The fee for each is $10. The school district covered the cost of the Tb test through Summit Health. A nurse was on hand Oct. 6 at the event and will return Oct. 8 to read the test. If people have that procedure done by their own physician's office, the cost runs approximately $15.

Nancy Foust, Director of Food Services, joined the staff on July 13. She had not been notified about the elimination of the weeks as of Monday, but had wondered how to handle them in light of the screening requirements. In checking records for last year, she found the school served over 1,000 adults during the parents and grandparents weeks.

The elementary school number was 294 parents and 275 grandparents. In the primary school it was 306 parents and 429 grandparents.

Foust's department does not track how many visiting adults eat at school in a given week, but administrators said it wasn't many.

Reasons

"It's always been a concern to allow anyone into the cafeteria," said elementary principal Chad Stover. "This is a sign of the times."

He said dropping Parents Week was because of a change in the food service department, not because of the volunteer policy adopted by the school board.

"The board policy came first. We are following their expectations." He said the administrators made the decision.

Angela Singer, primary principal, said the few people affected so far this year adapted to the change. Any adult without the clearance is offered a table in a conference room or in nice weather, to eat at a picnic table with the student. Several grandparents were in during one week.

"They were fine with it," said Singer. "The teachers sent along some games they could play together. I didn't see any negativity."

She said in the past the school brought in extra supervision during parent and grandparent weeks, but this year food services decided not to have the events.

"Our bottom line is we want children safe. I took this idea to the PTO last year, as far as parents at lunch and on the playground afterwards. They felt clearance was necessary too," she said.

None of the three was aware of any problem that had surfaced in the lunchroom during their tenure in the school district.

"It's about being safe. Why take the risk?" asked Hoover. "You don't have to have a problem to solve to change things."

Singer concurred. "We haven't had any and we don't want one if we can prevent it."

They also agreed that the clearances by parents and grandparents were not a guarantee against any issue.

"No, obviously," said Stover. "But we're just one step closer to student safety."

The school policy is that if a person volunteers once per school year, he/she will not have to go through the clearance process again. Stover said eating lunch once with a child counts as a volunteer activity.

"Security and safety are our number one priority," said Hoover. "We were looking for ways to make improvements and this was one of them. It's all a loss of innocence and I hate it."