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Watertown City Schools extends IHC lunch program

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Students who buy a hot lunch at Immaculate Heart Primary and Intermediate schools have more time before they are forced to brown-bag it.

The Watertown City School District has extended the program at IHC to give the private school system more time to find an alternative plan.

Watertown’s food service director, Craig P. Orvis, originally planned to withdraw the program after Dec. 21. The program now is extended to Jan. 31.

“We’re giving them another four weeks to get their council together to figure out what to do,” he said.

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

The decision to end the program was made after Mr. Orvis calculated that daily participation dropped by nearly half at the primary school and almost 30 percent at the intermediate school since the beginning of the school year. Officials believe the likely reason is the unpopular new federal rules on menu choices and portions.

Although IHC was reimbursing Watertown for the lunches students were buying, Mr. Orvis had to dip into Watertown’s school lunch fund balance to pay the bills for the program.

After the Watertown Board of Education meeting Dec. 4, Mr. Orvis and Superintendent Terry N. Fralick received emails from board members asking if there was any way they could extend the lunch program. About the same time, IHC Elementary School Principal Gary F. West asked to meet with the district to find out about school lunch alternatives.

“What it boils down to is it’s a business decision, but we’re dealing with kids,” Mr. Orvis said. “The business decision with IHC has to do with the daily participation.”

He said the U.S. Department of Health’s relaxed meat and grain guidelines for school lunches is not the reason the program was extended.

“We still can’t go beyond the calorie count,” he said.

The calorie restriction means few changes regarding price and menu options will be made.

Most of the menu changes will not take place until March, anyway, because Mr. Orvis put in an order for food before the new guidelines were announced.

Mr. West said Mr. Orvis and Mr. Fralick explained they both did not want the lunch program to end so soon.

“It was probably a difficult decision for them,” Mr. West said. “We will be in conversations with them after break.”

A press release sent to parents Tuesday said Mr. West will present a proposed plan the second week in January.

“At the end of the day, we want to provide our children with lunch,” Mr. West said. “I’m grateful for being able to work with Mr. Fralick and Mr. Orvis.”

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