Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.
Here’s your list for the week of Feb. 25:
1. University settles after ADA celiac complaint
A few years back, Oberlin was sued by students who said they were required to purchase meal plans but couldn’t partake in the college dining program because the university failed to provide them with adequate gluten-free items. The Justice Department ruled that the university had violated the students’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
When the ruling came out, many in the industry were worried about what it would mean for them, and just how far would this expand. It took several years, but there’s now another college going through the same thing. Rider University has settled with the U.S. Attorney’s Office over a similar incident: The university “failed to provide reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, and procedures for students with food allergy-related disabilities and failed to adequately train its staff on appropriate policies for accommodating individuals with food allergies,” the complaint said.
Rider, in the settlement, has agreed to make changes to its dining program, including the opening of an allergy-free prep station. Dining services must also provide “reasonable accommodations” for students with food allergies, including exempting those “qualified” students from mandatory purchases of the meal plan. The university must also hire a full-time dietitian, provide preordering of meals to students who need allergy-friendly options and post information on food allergies online and around campus.
The agreement is in place for three years, during which time the attorney general’s office can stop by campus at any time to ensure compliance with the agreement.
Read more: Rider University settles with feds over celiac disease complaint, will change dining
2. Proposed Ark. bill would cut school meal funding for poor reading scores
Rep. Alan Clark has proposed a state law in Arkansas that would cut school meal funding for districts that don’t see improvement in their reading scores. Many are understandably not happy about the idea, saying they don’t see how cutting school meal funding would improve reading scores, especially for those who are low-income. Seeing how funding for the National School Meal Program comes from the USDA, a federal program, through the state department of education, I’m not entirely sure it would even be possible for the proposed bill to work. In any case, the thought of punishing students by taking away funding for meals—which for many students are the only ones they eat in a day—seems ludicrous.
3. U of Penn cancels Black History Month dinner; students complain
Following several incidents of Black History Month dinners gone wrong (link: https://www.food-management.com/news-trends/5-things-sodexo-files-suit-against-georgia-tech-contract-switch), Penn Dining and management company Bon Appetit have canceled this year’s Black History Month events. Penn Dining said that instead of allowing dining halls to cook Southern food, they would hold a dinner that would highlight famous black chefs. Students, and some dining services employees, were not happy with the move and gathered in support of Hillel’s Falk Dining Commons, which was told it could not serve any special meals for Black History Month.
Read more: Penn Dining cancels traditional Black History Month celebration in fear of backlash
4. District narrows choices to cut cost
Tacoma Public Schools has reduced the amount of lunch options it offers in an effort to cut costs. The new menu, which debuted Feb. 1, focuses on the “most popular and lower-average-cost entrées,” the district said. The move cuts items like pre-packaged salads, hot dogs and burritos from the menu. The district as a whole is facing a budget deficit and is expected to make nearly $30 million in cuts in the 2019-20 school year. The child nutrition department, for its part, also has a growing unpaid meal debt, which was at $77,000 in November.
Read more: Pre-packaged salads, other lunch options cut for Tacoma students as budget deficits loom
5. Mandatory meal plan sees big gains for dining services
Dining services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison received an additional $500,000 last fall as a result of a new mandatory meal plan for incoming students. The new plan required first-year students living in residence halls to make at least a $1,400 deposit onto their dining cards. Dining services says the move, which was met with resistance from students, has helped to revive the dining program and that the additional funds will be reinvested into the program, particularly in the form of labor as it is short staffed.