OK. Well not "famous" exactly but I am a local blogger! In either case, I am quoted in the article.
Inspections in the New Rochelle School District in New York last year, for example, revealed problems at several schools — safety issues that should have been "shocking and eye-opening" to parents, says Robert Cox, who has two children attending school in the district At some schools, inspectors found severely dented food cans, a potential botulism risk.
Cox, managing editor of a blog devoted to town news, says the failures worry him. "It's not like we're demanding four-star meals," he says. "Let's just not have botulism."
When I was interviewed last week for the article, the reporter asked a number of questions about the parent reaction in New Rochelle to the Journal News report that New Rochelle had 10 failed health inspections last year and expressed surprise at the lack of outrage among parents to the news that New Rochelle had the worst cafeterias in Westchester and Putnam counties. My response was that this was likely due to several factors: (1) many parents in New Rochelle are afraid of the school district which has a well-known history of retaliating against parents who "cause trouble"; (2) New Rochelle residents have been so beaten down by the school district that they no longer see any point in confronting the district; (3) the Board of Education and administration simply ignored the issue -- it was never put on the agenda, no statement was ever issued; (4) the "cheerleading effect" where parents feel they must always defend "their" school even when that school may be poisoning their children. I also pointed out that three residents did raise the issue during the public comment period in board meetings in September and October and were either lied to (Karen Hessel) laughed at (Dr. Jack Wagner) or ignored (me, as usual!).
It was news to me that federal law requires two inspections a year for each cafeteria. Unless they get a complaint, the Westchester County Health Department visits the schools once a year so the district is apparently in violation of federal law. The reporter also told me that the County defended their inspections by saying they were "unannounced visits". This may be true but is entirely misleading. I have the inspections for New Rochelle cafeterias that were done for the current school year. As has been past practice, the inspections all took place over a period of about two weeks so even if the first visit to one cafeteria was a "surprise", the other 9 visits were not unless you believe that school officials did not spread the word. In reality, things like this do not happen without a friendly, unofficial "heads up, we're coming" call.
I spoke to WCHD. WCHD also told me that they have no plan to inspect the cafeterias again until the next school year so even if a cafeteria passed inspection in October there is no telling what has been going there since.
Not that there is ever any justification for failing a health inspection but New Rochelle has failed 15 health inspections since the 2006-07 school year. Do the math, if you have 10 cafeterias inspected once a year for four years that is 40 inspections; 15/40 37.5%. That comes out to a 38% fail rate for inspections the district knows are coming and for most of which the district has very specific advanced warning. If they fail this many inspections when they know the inspectors are coming just imagine how bad things are the rest of the time.
It is for this reason that my kids bring their own lunch to school. It is about the best you can do with a district that has not only expressed any particular concern about the poor sanitary conditions at school cafeterias but sought to excuse them or ignore them.
NOTE: Maybe we need to hire someone from Eastchester.
NOTE: you can read Talk of the Sound articles about the problems with cafeterias in the New Rochelle public school system here.
I just saw the actual USA TODAY cover on the Newseum web site and the cafeteria story is front page, above the folder, center. A very prominent placement. Cool!