By Eliza Partika
The Glendale Unified School District Board of Education made efforts this week to address misinformation and streamline the public comment portion of the meeting, where community members once again crowded the board room to speak on topics ranging from gender-related policies and sex education to student achievements.
Speaking to the more disruptive and divisive comments made during recent meetings, the board expressed empathy with the frustration at the lack of dialogue regarding misleading statements. As in previous meetings, parents and other community members spoke in opposition to gender-related policies at schools, with public comments lasting about two hours.
Board members recommended that parents or district stakeholders reach out by email or phone to have more of a conversation around complex issues.
“It’s hugely important to speak at board meetings, but it’s not a place where we can speak back,” said Board member Kathleen Cross.
Board President Nayiri Nahabedian began Tuesday’s meeting with an explanation of the Brown Act’s limits on public comment speeches — five minutes per speaker and 20 minutes per topic. She urged the public to air frustrations via social media, email or direct conversation with a board member or administrator who can facilitate dialogue between the public and the board.
“The board welcomes and respects the rights of members of the public to share and make comments. We are committed to maintaining a civil and productive environment,” Nahabedian said. “All student employees and community members have the right to express themselves in a safe environment. Free from bullying and harassment. School employees, teachers, administrators and district staff are eager to meet with families to discuss any concerns or questions you or your student may have. We encourage [meetings] … where we can actually sit and have a conversation and solve problems,” she explained.
To help facilitate communication, Superintendent Vivian Ekchian will start hosting school site visits to meet with parents and answer questions about curriculum or policies in a more direct manner. The “Coffee with the Superintendent” parent meetings are slated to begin next week, with the first rounds to be held at Jefferson, Keppel, R.D. White, and Balboa elementary schools.
“We are committed to engaging with parents as partners in their kids’ education. Our children benefit when their parents and other caregivers are inquisitive and involved with what is going on in our school communities,” Ekchian told the News-Press regarding the site visits. “Our goal is to connect directly with families, correct misinformation and ensure our parents understand their rights. We will continue to work together with our families, commit to having challenging conversations, asking questions and maintaining a civil discourse for the benefit of all students.”
In her comments at the school board meeting, Ekchian noted that she hopes these school
site visits will encourage constructive dialogue and assuage any fears or concerns parents have regarding policies, gender-identity practices or any other matter.
“Whether having coffee with the superintendent and the principal in a setting where the questions can be individualized, I would like you to reach out to me for those who have questions or appear to want to know more, so we can create the right constructive settings to have meaningful dialogue,” she said. “I made a commitment to our students that I was going to be part of the solution [rather than] the problem. So I invite those who want to be part of the solution to find a way to help make that happen. We’re almost at the end of the school year, it would be incredibly wonderful if our kids could see us collaborate with one another and demonstrate how much bigger problems have been resolved in the world; we certainly have all the intelligence in the room and in the school district to be able to resolve them.”
NUTRITION, FACILITIES UPGRADES
In action items at Tuesday’s meeting, the Board approved funding for wrought iron fencing projects at several GUSD schools, including at Monte Vista Elementary, Verdugo Woodlands Elementary, La Crescenta Elementary, La Crescenta High School and Toll Middle School.
Ekchian gave an overview of nutrition policies and practices to parents.
Ekchian clarified that in light of recent questions about what’s in the food served at school, teachers and administrators should share the Board meeting recording with parents “to make sure every parent knows about our nutrition program.”
Jennifer Ching Gonzales, who runs the school’s nutrition program and is a parent herself, spoke about the nutritional value of the food given to students at lunch and snack times.
Current school lunch standards emphasize whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Students must take at least a half a cup of fruit and vegetables with their meal, with limits on calories, sodium, trans and saturated fats, according to Gonzalez.
“Our goal is reinforcing positive dietary habits into adulthood,” she added.
Schools are bound by state and local health department laws dictating who eats what, where, and when and how they eat. Inspectors perform regular procurement audits to ensure schools are meeting standards. Gonzales said that often means hundreds of pages of written regulations to follow.
Following U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrition Requirements is the first priority when creating menus, but seasonality, availability and budget play a role, along with student taste tests, popularity or demand for an item, and student and staff feedback.
“We go to different elementary schools, we meet with the students and give them a nutrition lesson and they get to taste foods and let us know whether or not it should be added to the menu. We also let them do a wish list, and whatever you would like to see on the menu, we do our best to provide,” Gonzales explained.
Popularity and demand drive menu creation, she said, because “when we know kids like the food, we want to put it on the menu. Nutrition is only good when kids eat it.”
California was the first state to provide a universal lunch program not based on income or financial need of the student’s household. At GUSD, all children are given one breakfast and one lunch per day at no charge. One hundred twenty-nine nutritional services staff members work in GUSD. In the 2022-2023 school year, the district has served more than 1 million breakfasts and more than 1 million lunches to students.
The district offers many programs providing food to students, among them the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, Cal Fresh Healthy Living, after-school snacks, and the Seamless Summer Program, which offers meals at school through summer vacation, from June through August. At Mann
Elementary, a fresh fruits and vegetables program allows students to taste foods like lychee and soybeans to expand their palate.
Lunch food safety is heavily regulated by all GUSD campuses, including customizable menus for children with special dietary needs, texture modifications and food allergies.
GUSD also partners with Redlands-based growers Old Grove Orange, which provides mini farmers markets for the students as well as fresh produce picked and delivered to all campuses daily. About 72% of the produce consumed at GUSD campuses is grown locally, according to Gonzales.
First published in the May 20 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.