Schools in the city of Asheville were required to pay the state nearly $ 5,000 after an investigation found the district falsely reported the number of free meals distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, the infant nutrition division of the North Carolina Department of Education conducted an administrative review of ACS’s participation in the Summer Foodservice Program, a provider of meals for students to low income that was extended by the US Department of Agriculture to provide meals to families throughout the school year during the pandemic.
The review showed that from September to December, ACS âover-claimedâ 1,267 meals at nine PODS (Positive Opportunities Develop Success) sites across the district, according to the state review of ACS’s meal distribution. obtained from the Citizen Times.
“During this period, federal guidelines on infant nutrition and state guidelines on related issues fluctuated and the district was working hard to address the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic at all levels.” , wrote ACS Superintendent Gene Freeman in an email to ACS Parents. “Although it was a difficult time, this fact is no excuse for mistakes.”
Established in response to virtual learning during the pandemic, PODS was small groups of students coming together to do schoolwork. ACS partnered with local nonprofits to have volunteers work at PODS sites, which were located in community centers in an effort to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on low-income communities.
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These volunteers, along with school staff working on the PODS, were tasked with documenting the number of free meals that were distributed.
âThe NCDPI review found that the district school nutrition staff were not to blame for the mistakes and I would like to publicly thank our child nutrition officers and volunteers who worked diligently to feed the PODS students. over the past year, “Freeman wrote.
He did not specify who was responsible for the counting error.
The reports, which were to be taken daily and monthly, determined how much schools in the city of Asheville would be reimbursed for meals distributed – school districts foot the bill for the summer food service program but are reimbursed when reports are submitted .
However, what happened in addition to reimbursement for meals distributed in good faith was a government bill to ACS for $ 4,982.32 to compensate for over-claimed meals. In the email to the parents, Freeman said the refund has been made. ACS spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin did not immediately say where the repayment funds would come from.
âI will need to speak to our CFO to get specific information beyond what was shared in the letter and review,â Thublin said.
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The district is also required to submit a “corrective action plan” to the state’s instruction department by Aug.6, according to the report.
State review of meal distribution at PODS sites said the ACS plan should include a clear job description for a school nutrition director, procedures for conducting internal reviews of food distribution and mandatory training at all distribution sites.
Freeman’s email to parents included a statement that the City of Asheville Board of Education had reviewed the incident and determined “that there were no legal conflicts of interest and that no one had taken advantage of these mistakes “.
Chairman of the board, James Carter, did not respond to a Citizen Times request for comment before the press time.
Many have taken to Facebook to speculate on the involvement of Freeman and ACS Deputy Superintendent of Responsibility and Training Melissa Hedt in the under-counted meals. Some have asked for their resignation.
“It was incompetence and then a doubling of incompetence,” said ACS parent Pepi Acebo. “I’ll just ask the council to relieve them.”
Shelby Harris is a journalist who covers education and other topics. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_shelbyharris.