Children at a city school went hungry Thursday due to a staff shortage in the Philadelphia school district and an apparent operational failure at the central office.
No breakfast or lunch has ever arrived to feed the kids at Mitchell Elementary School in southwest Philadelphia – and it wasn’t the first time this term’s meals failed to arrive. ‘school.
District staff told Mitchell at 9 a.m. Thursday that neither food nor staff would be sent to school at 55th and Kingsessing, according to a letter sent to parents by the principal and obtained by The Inquirer.
“As soon as the stores opened, I ordered pizza for 400 students to try out the lunch service,” wrote Stephanie Andrewlevich, Mitchell’s manager. “Some of the pizzas arrived and were served to the students, some did not arrive by 2:15 pm. The students were not served.”
Throughout the day, Mitchell’s teachers and support staff moved away from their usual roles to occupy the dining room, order pizza, and go to the store to buy water and juice.
“Also, the students in Grades 3 to 8 have not received support for breakfast as we do not have a member of the district food service staff to organize it on a daily basis,” wrote the director, Stephanie Andrewlevich.
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Students rely heavily on free meals provided by the district. Almost all children who attend K-8 school are considered economically disadvantaged, but every student in Philadelphia is entitled to free meals, regardless of income.
A teacher from Mitchell called the situation “awful” and said it was not the first time Mitchell had not had a meal. Another time the food didn’t come, Andrewlevich ordered soft pretzels to feed the children, the teacher said.
On Thursday, “the little ones couldn’t have breakfast or lunch today – some students got pizza and some didn’t,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. “Their basic needs are not being met and it is beyond the control of school staff. How can learning really happen if basic needs are not met? It’s inhumane.
During the school day Thursday, some students told Mitchell’s teachers and administration that they were hungry, staff said.
“They didn’t know why this was happening, and then they said, ‘Well, it happens,’ which shouldn’t be normalized,” the teacher said.
The disruption in food delivery comes amid a difficult start to the school year for the district, which is struggling with transportation issues, school nurse struggles, environmental issues and other significant issues.
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Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who learned of the lack of food in Mitchell Thursday night, said the problem was with “people not showing up for work, and that created a problem.” Mitchell’s cafeteria worker and the replacement worker were both absent, he said.
Hite said he needed more information on why Mitchell never received food.
“It wasn’t like we couldn’t bring meals to school,” the superintendent said in an interview, adding that the district managed to distribute 11 million meals when the pandemic closed buildings because of it. of COVID-19.
The teacher said that the lack of food was not the only failure of basic needs. Mitchell’s water fountains and bottle-filling stations were also mostly non-functional, the teacher said.
Building staff fix the fountains and then they break again “and the children are thirsty and have no water,” the teacher said. The principal has ordered water bottles for the students, the teacher said, but without a constant supply of water for the students, they cannot always fill them.
Parent Nikyta Gray is both angry and worried, she said.
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Gray loves Mitchell, a school that is revered in its community as a safe haven, a partner with families, and a place where they can access support and resources. She is happy with her COVID-19 protocols.
The kids are ‘happy to be back, and I like the precautions schools take – they don’t let you into the building, they bring your kids to you, they meet you at the door to discuss everything you do. need and make an appointment with you, ”Gray said.
But through no fault of the staff, this year has been difficult, she said – no breakfast and sometimes no lunch? It’s unthinkable, she said.
“I’m trying to figure it out,” Gray said. “It is unacceptable that this is happening.”