Mistakes were made, Asheville City Schools principal Gene Freeman confirmed in a June 23 update on our school nutrition department sent to the district’s students, staff and families. In the email, he confirmed that the NC Department of Public Instruction had been reviewing the system’s catering operations and found discrepancies in “the school district’s food counting and consumption process.”
The findings of the state’s administrative auditors, however, went beyond Freeman’s admission and pointed to problems further up the district. The errors that occurred on the Positive Opportunities to Develop Success remote learning sites weren’t the mere oversight of then-school nutrition director Katie Treece or other ACS nutritionists – they were the result of deliberate interference by school administrators.
“The School Nutrition Director was prohibited from implementing, completing, and / or meeting various compliance requirements in the after-school programs, including required training of extra-curricular personnel, required on-site monitoring requirements at extra-curricular locations, and clear oversight of accuracy. of reimbursable meals served to eligible students and children, ”the NCDPI report reads. “These results, as described, constitute a serious breach of the district’s agreements with the state agency to administer the state-sponsored school feeding program (s) at Asheville City Schools.”
“The records obtained during the review indicate that a district administrator who did not receive the required training and may not be familiar with the program rules was issuing direct instructions to staff that did not meet regulatory requirements,” the report added .
While the report doesn’t directly state who was involved in blocking Treece’s efforts, it does note that only she and Freeman had signed a document obliging the district to abide by the state’s nutritional program regulations. As required corrective action, the district must “describe the superintendent’s role in the administration and implementation of school nutrition programs” and enable the nutrition director to “review and / or report practices that violate the agreement and program.” Regulations and guidelines. “
Freeman’s email to the school community said he “takes full responsibility for the errors identified by NCDPI”. However, in response to a June 24 request for comment, he denied preventing Treece from performing her duties, saying he did not know who did it.
“I have no idea why [the requirements] were not met except for the fact that I directed staff to make sure our students were getting meals as we were in the middle of a pandemic, ”added Freeman. “Nobody raised my concerns until I started holding them accountable this spring.”
Price to be paid
At the heart of the district’s non-compliance, explains the NCDPI report, is the miscalculation of meals served at PODS through the summer food service program. This initiative, funded by the US Department of Agriculture and state administered, aims to provide free healthy meals to children in low-income areas. Sites that offer these meals are reimbursed by the state based on the number of meals served.
Only meals that are actually served to the students are eligible for reimbursement. However, the report notes that those who hand out groceries at PODS have reimbursed other meals served to parents and school staff, for example, under the program. “Non-program adults must pay for meals when they are received, and non-program adult meals will not be eligible for federal reimbursement,” NCDPI officials list as a corrective action required.
At nine PODS locations, the Asheville School District required the reimbursement of over 1,200 additional meals as allowed by law between September and December 2020, according to the NCDPI report. Jeffrey Squires, an NCDPI administrative review specialist, said in a June 7 letter to Freeman that as a result, the system would have to repay nearly $ 5,000 to the state. Squires did not respond to multiple requests for additional comment.
“During that time, federal guidelines on child nutrition and state guidelines on related issues fluctuated, and the county worked hard to meet the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels. While this was a challenging time, that fact doesn’t excuse the mistakes, ”Freeman said in his June 23 email. He stressed that “nobody benefits from these mistakes” and that all funds have been repaid.
Neither Freeman’s email nor the NCDPI report indicates that an ACS administrator is at risk of being downgraded, cut, or fired because of their role in this matter. (Treece stepped down from the system in March and currently serves as the assistant director of nutritional services for the Valley View School District in Romeoville, Illinois. She did not respond to a request for comment.)
But several parents are calling for Freeman’s resignation, including Pepi Acebo, president of the Montford North Star Academy’s parent-teacher organization and a new candidate for the Asheville City Board of Education. In a June 23 post to Facebook group Asheville Politics, Acebo alleged multiple sources told him that Freeman ordered Shane Cassida, the district’s assistant superintendent for relief services, to fire Treece for describing what the NCDPI had described Had reported a fault.
“I don’t answer hearsay based questions. However, Ms. Treece oversaw a department that lost $ 1 million over five years and continued to lose money during her tenure, “Freeman said in response to Acebo’s claim. Cassida did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
James Carter, the chairman of the Asheville School Board, did not respond to a request for comment on disciplinary action that could be taken against Freeman or other administrators.
The full NCDPI report is embedded below.
Asheville City Schools – Re… by Daniel Walton