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School Cafeterias May Soon Get Letter Grades Like Restaurants

By Amy Zimmer | December 3, 2016 12:21pm | Updated on December 5, 2016 2:49pm
 Sweet potato wedges and chicken wings at a Bronx high school.
Sweet potato wedges and chicken wings at a Bronx high school.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — Elected officials want cafeterias in city schools to post letter grades in the same way restaurants do, revealing whether their kitchens are kept safe and clean.

State senators from the Independent Democratic Committee, including Jeffrey Klein of The Bronx, said their proposed legislation would require the Health Department — which already inspects school cafeterias — to make their inspections public by giving letter grades to the schools.

The grades would be posted for the school community and be included in the school quality reports published annually by the Department of Education.

The move comes on the heels of a report from WPIX, which published data from the 2014-15 school year obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Health revealing evidence of mice inside schools during more than 400 visits by health inspectors.

Other hazards included roaches spotted during more than 60 visits and 42 schools lacking soap and cold water for lunchroom staff to wash their hands.

There were also reports of a green substance found in school pizza, forcing the Department of Education to temporarily suspend the food twice this year, and bones were reportedly found in chicken tenders.

Parents, however, are often left in the dark about health related hazards in school cafeterias, the elected officials said.

"We expect our kids to get A’s and we should expect the cafeterias that feed them to work just as hard to make the grade," a report released this week from the IDC said.   

"It begs the question why the city is more transparent about the performance of private restaurants than with its own performance in keeping those kitchens we utilize to feed students clean," the report said.

The number of violations in school cafeterias increased by 17 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014, the report found.

Roughly 86 percent of cafeterias would have received "A" grades in fiscal year 2015 under the Health Department’s standards applied to restaurants. But that was down 3 percentage points in two years.

Roughly 13 percent would get "B" grades, and 29 schools consistently earned the equivalent of "B" or "C" grades for three academic years rather than showing any improvement, according to the report.

"We are dedicated to providing students with nutritious meals in cafeterias that are clean and safe, and will work with the Department of Health to make the reports more easily accessible to the public," DOE spokeswoman Toya Holness said.

Health Department officials said they are reviewing the proposed legislation.

"School cafeterias perform very well on health inspections, with 86 percent earning the equivalent of an 'A' grade on initial inspection compared to 59 percent of restaurants," a Health Department spokeswoman said. "The Health Department and DOE work closely together to correct violations quickly."

She noted that letter grades have a different impact for restaurants.

"Letter grades at restaurants are popular because New Yorkers use them to choose where to eat, and that motivates restaurants to do well," she said. "Students can be confident that schools are serving food that is safe for them to eat."