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Schools to cut back on meal distribution after spring break to reduce coronavirus exposure

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY – Rowan-Salisbury Schools will reduce the number of meal distribution days after returning from spring break to limit staff exposure to COVID-19. 

The move aims to encourage workers to stay on board rather than taking leave and leading to eliminating meal distribution all together. Spring break starts Monday. The district plans to resume classes from home on April 13, as the governor’s mandatory school closure order will still be in effect.

“This would reduce our staff’s exposure by 40%, yet it would continue to provide a meal each day for our students,” Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said during a virtual meeting of the Board of Education on Friday.

Breakfasts are cold and intended to be eaten the morning after students receive them the prior afternoon. The meals would be staggered so students could at least have one each weekday.

Vann added the district is concerned with the growing number of cases in the community.

The plan is to remove Wednesday and Friday from the schedule, with no increase to the number of meals being delivered on the remaining three days. That means two breakfasts and two lunches would not be served to students. Vann said the district would not be able to be reimbursed by the USDA for serving more meals to make up for the lost days.

“It would reduce the exposure for our families as well,” Superintendent Lynn Moody said.

Moody pointed out Durham Public Schools shuttered its meal distribution entirely to reduce exposure after a worker at a preparation site tested positive for COVID-19. In Davidson County, two of the three school systems there have employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and worked in the preparation of meals for school children, the Lexington Dispatch reported.

Carol Herndon, chief financial officer, said more workers who are around others in the community have decided to take leave during the pandemic. She floated the idea of additional pay for the workers or paying staff who continue to work full hours for only working three days a week and not requiring them to complete other assignments as possible incentives for continuing meal distributions. 

Vann said a solution like a single-day distribution of shelf-stable products would not work because there is not enough of that type of food available.

“Every day we are having more and more employees ask for leave,” Moody said, adding the district needs to see if the number of employees taking leave continues to increase or remains steady.

The district began its daily distribution three weeks ago, rolling out meals to every student, and even younger siblings at no cost to families who got the food delivered or picked up via car rider lines at schools. The district distributed more than 26,000 meals on Thursday.

Moody said the district has to do everything it can to serve its students and still protect the community.

The board plans to reconvene on April 13 to discuss options for compensating workers involved with meal delivery as well as a draft budget message to present to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

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