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Watertown City School District to cut IHC lunches

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Menu changes owing to revamped federal lunch standards have disappointed children throughout the nation, causing more students than ever to bring in bagged lunches.

The students at Immaculate Heart Central are no exception.

Due to the diminishing number of students buying lunch at the private school, the Watertown City School District will stop providing lunches for the campus after Dec. 21.

“Participation has dropped almost half at the (IHC) primary building and almost 30 percent at the intermediate school,” said Watertown City School District Food Service Director Craig P. Orvis.

The program began at the primary building in November 2001 and at the intermediate building in September 2002.

Mr. Orvis and city schools Superintendent Terry N. Fralick began talks about the lunches in October. The decision to stop the service was made after reviewing the numbers again in November.

Mr. Orvis emphasized the decline in the number of students buying lunch does not reflect a drop in enrollment at IHC.

“Their enrollment numbers are about comparable to where they were last year,” he said.

In addition to the decline in participation, the rising cost of fresh vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products — all menu requirements in the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandate — has meant the city school district’s food service department has been operating in the red.

Mr. Orvis said he has had to dip into the school lunch fund balance to pay the bills for the program.

Mr. Fralick said the decision to stop providing meals to IHC requires no resolution and does not need to be approved by the Board of Education. However, the decision will be brought up at a committee meeting next week.

Students in both IHC buildings use the free and reduced-price lunch program through the USDA.

“A significant number of our students get some sort of financial aid,” said IHC Executive System Administrator Christopher E. Hornbarger.

In an email, Mr. Hornbarger said Elementary School Principal Gary F. West is disappointed by the city district’s decision. Letters were sent to parents informing them of the looming deadline.

At the moment, there are no plans for IHC to start preparing lunch for its primary and intermediate schools. Mr. Hornbarger said the buildings have only warming facilities that are not capable of creating enough food for the students.

Mr. Orvis said it is unlikely the city school district will resume providing meals for IHC this year.

According to Mr. Hornbarger, Mr. West said IHC is attempting to find a solution or another partnership to create a new lunch program. However, with only a few weeks until the end of the current program, the transition is unlikely to be smooth.

“We told parents, as of right now, no meals will be prepared for students after Friday, December 21,” Mr. Hornbarger said.

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