Accomack school cafeteria workers strike back vs. criticism

Accomack County Public Schools

BY TED SHOCKLEY, Eastern Shore Post —

Accomack school cafeteria workers defended themselves against the school board at a meeting Tuesday, April 2, in the wake of school board member Jason Weippert’s claim that “the food service sucks” in the county and “school lunches are terrible.”

In emotional comments, school system cafeteria workers upbraided Weippert and the school board for their criticism, saying the disapproval had continued on social media and had diminished morale.

Board Chair Janet Martin Turner apologized and said the school board’s focus was to improve the quality of offerings — not to criticize workers themselves.

“I’m sorry that things were said,” she said.

Later in the meeting, Weippert also said he wanted the quality of food to improve and he takes “full responsibility” for the ensuing controversy.

“My choice of words probably weren’t the most professional words,” he said.

Weippert said he never would admonish “anybody that works hard” and said his goal was to raise salaries for the school system’s lowest earners, including cafeteria workers.

But the discord already had been sown.

“We are so unappreciated,” said cafeteria manager Kristin Sterling, who said the school board derided lunches without actually trying them.

“I have yet to see you walk into any of the schools and try the food,” she said.

Sterling also said county foodservice workers were mulling cutting back on helping with extra work for the schools because of the lack of appreciation.

“I think I speak for all food service that we are no longer going to be doing special events anymore, other than what our school asks us to do,” she said.

Chincoteague cafeteria manager Melissa Taylor called Weippert’s criticism “a personal attack on me and my staff.”

She thanked school board member Jesse Speidel for eating in the cafeteria she manages and appreciated his support.

But the overall criticism “brought me to tears,” she said.

“We put our all into this,” she said. “All this negativity has left me feeling completely defeated.”

Several other speakers addressed the board, in person and in writing, in support of the cafeteria workers’ efforts.

Turner stressed improving the quality of food was the main goal — and the issue was not an attack on the school system’s food service manager.

Turner said teachers have mentioned to her the the sugar-filled breakfast choices — chocolate doughnuts and the like — are a detriment to behavior.

Weippert agreed, saying children should get the best quality food.

“Quality is not expensive; its priceless,” he said.

— School board member Stefanie Jackson is a staff writer for the Eastern Shore Post. She has no input in the Post’s coverage of Accomack County Public Schools.

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