Super grills media over cheese snafu

Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super blasted the media over its coverage of what he termed “the infamous cheese sandwich” at the start of Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

“It is not my intent to in any way state that the incident was blown out of proportion,” Super said. “Students and parents had a concern and it needed to be addressed.”

Barbour County students eating “hot” lunch on May 2 were served slices of cheese on a white hamburger bun as their meal. Many students took photos of the cheese sandwiches alone on their lunch trays, sending the pictures to their parents and posting them on social media sites. Super said last week the students eating school lunch on May 2 will not be charged for the meal on their bills.

The incident was covered by local media and the West Virginia Associated Press. At Monday’s meeting, Super disputed some of the statements made in the AP article.

“It was stated I was forced to apologize regarding the incident. Stand corrected. I was not forced,” Super said. “In my mind, it was the right thing to do and I did it.”

The AP story included comments from Richard Goff, the state Department of Education’s chief nutritional officer.

“When I asked that same member of the department if that meal met state guidelines, I was told ‘no,'” Super said Monday. “When I asked that same individual to put that in writing to me, I was basically danced with to the proverbial backpedal, and was told they couldn’t, wouldn’t do that. But yet when I read the papers, there it is. So I respectfully ask, ‘You put it in a quote in the paper. Why not put it in writing to me?'”

Super also quoted from The Inter-Mountain’s May 9 editorial on the subject.

“There is the word ‘speculation’ tied to hiding something in a paper related to, among other things, running short of food on a countywide basis, overshooting federal guidelines and running out of money,” the superintendent said.

“To the best of my knowledge, I know of no instance in my tenure when we have been faced with running out of food on a countywide basis,” Super said. “More than likely, there could have been a mistake in calculated number of meals at a specific school being either over- or underprepared, but not on a countywide basis. And that situation has been addressed.”

Super also spoke about the school system’s troubled financial status.

“Funding is a concern, a concern we have not hid from anyone… But to indicate we are not feeding kids because we are running out of money was, and is, uncalled for,” he said. “To indicate we switched menus from either hot dogs or pork chops to cheese sandwiches in a clandestine manner, again, is uncalled for.”

The Inter-Mountain’s original article on the situation noted that the county school system’s online menu had been changed after the May 2 meal. Super refuted that statement.

“I’m not sure what online menu was referenced for the paper … in checking, I did find the menu was changed approximately one week prior from a bologna with cheese sandwich with baked beans, peach slices, garden bar and assorted milk, to a cheese sandwich with all the same other items,” Super said. “I also found that change was not announced in all schools, even though the schools were aware of the change.”

Super said he was exhibiting “professional leadership” by declining to say what had caused the May 2 meal situation, or to say who made the decision.

“No one is trying to make the story go away,” Super said. “I, we, are only trying to get to the bottom of the situation so we can make sure, as best we can, that it doesn’t happen again. I explained to two journalists that the buck stops with me, and there was and is no need to publicly condemn someone. I fail to see where that translates that we, or I, am hiding information.

“The matter was dealt with in a professional manner in my office. Answers have been and will be provided to the board as I continue to investigate the situation. The responsibility was and is accepted here. The folks are used to other educational leaders waffling and deferring accountability by throwing folks under the bus. Well, that’s not going to happen here.”

Super also indicated that he has learned more about what caused the incident since initially talking to reporters.

“If I am lied to, and have to deal with legal, moral and ethical situations, I will work through those via the procedures provided in code and/or in policy, but not in public,” he said. “I will grant this to the press: at the time I was interviewed, I did not have all the above information, and how they construed what I had at the time is how they construed it.”

No board members addressed the meal situation after Super’s comments. Food service director Tammy Martin was not at Monday’s meeting.