• Today in Connecticut: Largest School Lunch Boycott

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    Here’s a good rule of thumb: Never start a food fight with high school students.

    Students at Farmington High School in Connecticut are boycotting their school lunch program this week, accusing the campus food service provider of serving low-quality meals and embarrassing students who can’t afford them.

    Over 500 people have joined a student Facebook group calling for a boycott of Chartwells, the food-service company that replaced the district’s in-house meal program in 2012. The page is full of photos of moldy food allegedly served in the cafeteria, along with some other fairly gross testimonials.

    But to add insult to injury, students are not alerted when their accounts are running down. Instead, their lunch is taken and chucked into garbage cans right next to the register; right in front of their faces and peers. In one instance, a parent complained that her daughter who has Type 1 diabetes was forced to throw out her only meal – a yogurt. Another student had his lunch laid waste because he was short 50 cents.

    It's not so much the school they take issue with – although the school is condoning the poor quality – but the shady food company to whom they are contracted – Chartwells. Speaking as a former public school staff member, this example highlights a nationwide problem of schools subletting food quality to the lowest possible private bidder.High school senior and organizer David Casella said:

    They're not treating us like humans, …

    The school has tried to pressure students to back down, citing possible injury to students on the free lunch program that might not be able to participate. Solution? The students are bringing extra lunches from home to help them and are ordering pizzas this week. In the past, they have reached into their pockets to help students who get their lunches thrown out when they are short. Unfortunately, today during the boycott, one student was barred from handing out free food. The Principal told her it was illegal!

    Rachel White hopes the boycott will at least get attention and says, “…we hold the power. We are the customers and Chartwells is the business.” One student estimates that if just over 300 students participate for the week, then Chartwells could lose up to $6,000 dollars.

    These are just a few examples of Chartwells' “scrumptious” servings. You can scroll through the event above to find postings of portion sizes and dead bugs in fruit and veggies. (Hope you've already eaten.)

    This is not the first attempt at a boycott against Chartwells. Not the first time by a long shot. Another time, it was a protest launched by elementary students. Another affront is the knowledge that First Lady Michelle Obama had personally worked with Chartwells in a campaign to boost vegetables and fruits in lunch servings.
    Instead of the negative publicity affecting healthy change, the Farmington school system seems to be using pressure tactics to end the boycott. Their public statements don't allude to real change. In some instances students were called individually into the Principal's office. On Friday, Sarah White was called down and given a patronizing “this isn't like you” speech and was told in no uncertain terms to “knock it off” because they were going to “sort it out with Chartwells.” Sarah was tired of being pressured to have a “take-it-on-the-chin” attitude out of some unwarranted sense of respect and not making a scene in order to keep up appearances.

    Farmington High School Principal Bill Silva said Monday's boycott was respectful and not disruptive. He said he plans to meet with students again “to get a broad-based understanding of their concerns.”

    “Along with the high school administration, Chartwells is committed to addressing these concerns and has been very responsive to student input and questions,” Silva said.

    Farmington Supt. Kathleen Greider said last week that she and other school officials “deeply respect our students' opinions and honor the dignity of every student that attends the Farmington Schools.”

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