‘It’s kind of disturbing’: Clarksville parents frustrated with school cafeteria food


CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In Clarksville, there are complaints of moldy bread and stale milk.

Parents with students in the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) are upset and frustrated with the food on their kids’ lunch trays, or lack thereof.

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According to the district, the CMCSS Child Nutrition Department is being impacted by nationwide food and supply shortages. These shortages are creating unavoidable, last-minute menu changes and modifications to the serving trays and utensils. In addition, menu selections are further limited or altered.

The district added that students will continue to receive a free breakfast and a free lunch.

Parents were recently notified that due to the supply chain issues CMCSS Food and Nutrition will be transitioning to serving only one entrée item for school lunches, and since everyday use items, like trays are not readily available, lunches will be bagged. The district says once the supply chain issues improve, the department will switch back to a more normal lunch menu.

“It’s kind of disturbing,” said Emy Weeks.

Weeks is a working mother with three children in the CMCSS, one at the Elementary level, one in middle school, and the other in high school. “I understand the whole shortage of meals, but I don’t like the fact that parents weren’t notified. My type 1 diabetic [son] needs substance. He needs food, not just a hotdog, and a tortilla and 4-ounce juice.”

Weeks went on to say that many parents are upset, with some students even saying their milk is sometimes expired.

“It’s not filling and definitely not appetizing,” Weeks said. “To think they came home almost every day for a month telling me how horrible the food was but I brushed them off thinking, you know, they’re just teenagers, they’re just complaining, but it wasn’t that.”

During the September 28 CMCSS School Board meeting, Dr. Angela Huff, Interim Director of Schools, addressed the board with information concerning the current supply shortage situation. In her remarks, Dr. Huff mentioned the following:

  • Nationwide, high-volume shortages and supply chain disruptions are creating unavoidable, last-minute menu changes and modifications to serving trays and utensils. However, please note that complete, USDA-approved meals are still being served every day at no charge to students.
  • With the shortages, non-conventional meal tray replacements are being implemented such as bagging all items without a tray. Menu selections may be unconventional, such as sides not matching traditionally with entrees or hamburger/hotdog buns being replaced with flatbreads, wraps, or crackers.
  • Although the Child Nutrition Department has contracts with vendors, they are continuously exploring alternative suppliers and options. A major issue is that many vendors are not taking on new high-volume customers as they work to supply their current customers. For some, sourcing can be as simple as going to Kroger if Publix is out something they need. The District serves over 150,000 meals a week, so sourcing locally is generally not a viable option.
  • The Child Nutrition Department will continue navigating the supply chain disruptions and shortages that have been making national headlines to ensure our students continue to be served USDA-approved meals each school day.
  • As a reminder, CMCSS is not the agency which supplies P-EBT cards. The Tennessee Department of Human Services oversees the pandemic food benefits program.

“Our cafeteria staff work hard to follow all state and federal food safety laws, rules, and regulations. Our cafeterias across the District average 98 or higher on their foodservice establishment inspections,” said Anthony Johnson, Chief Communications Officer at CMCSS. “Parents and guardians with questions or concerns about food safety or the cafeteria menu should contact the cafeteria manager at their child’s school.”

Now, due to the lack of options, Weeks says her kids will be bringing their lunches to school, while other students are resorting to Door Dash or Uber Eats, which the district says is not allowed unless picked up and brought into the school by the student or dropped off by the parent.

The district responded to WKRN’s inquiry about outside food vendors.

“To clarify, per the email from New Providence Middle School administration, outside food is allowed. Students can bring meals and parents/guardians can deliver meals to schools. There are safety and logistical concerns with schools accommodating numerous third-party meal delivery services for students during the school day. With an average of around 1,200 students in our middle schools and 1,500 in our high schools, accommodating numerous third-party deliveries from people who may or may not know the student’s name, grade level, lunch period, etc., and may or may not arrive on time presents logistical concerns. Additionally, this practice introduces numerous non-custodial visitors into the school environment, which presents safety concerns. This is not a new concern or one specific to Clarksville-Montgomery County,” Johnson said.

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Weeks says she’s willing to pay for her students’ lunches again if it means they get better meals. She also feels for those who can’t afford to send their kids with a lunch.

“I know I can provide my children for that lunch at the moment but there are plenty of other parents out there that are not able to there’s a lot of children out there that go to school looking forward to the one meal they’re going to get that day, I can’t imagine being in those parents’ shoes right now,” Weeks said.

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