Letter to Mayor Gray: Please Keep DCPS Food Healthy, Fresh and Food Services Transparent

On February 13, the members of the D.C. School Food Project reached out to Mayor Vincent Gray to share our disappointment in the sudden departure of DCPS Food Services Director, Jeff Mills. Not only did DCPS lose a leader who advocated for more nutritional school food, but the lack of transparency surrounding Mr. Mills’ departure leaves us concerned about a financially sustainable and nutritional rich future for DCPS food services.

As a fellow parent, advocate, or other community member concerned about the well-being of school children in the nation’s capital, we hope you join us in this shared cause. Please, help us raise awareness about this critical issue in our community. Share your comments about school food in DC. Spread the word by passing along our letter to Mayor Gray (copied below). You can also join our Facebook and Twitter networks to stay informed of other issues related to DCPS school food.

Thank you for your support.

February 13, 2013

Dear Mayor Gray,

We, the members of the D.C. School Food Project, are very disappointed by the sudden and non-transparent departure of DCPS Food Services Director, Jeffrey Mills.  His tenure brought important positive changes to DCPS food, and we are concerned about the future of the city’s school meals without his leadership and vision. Most importantly, we would like to see DCPS develop a strategic plan for food service that lays out how to preserve and strengthen the advances made in a transparent and financially sustainable way.

As parents and community members, we applauded Mr. Mills’ success in bringing healthy, fresh, locally-produced food to D.C. school children as well as his attempts at oversight of existing and new vendors.  Mr. Mills’ reforms nicely complemented the changes required under D.C.’s Healthy Schools Act, and under his leadership, the new requirements were met within the first year — no small feat in any school operation, let alone in a large school district. Parents around the District, as well as national school food advocates and policymakers, celebrated these changes. All of the operational, contractual, and budgetary issues involved in an overhaul of such magnitude may not have been fully resolved before he left. However, the fundamental changes in food quality and oversight that he instituted need to remain and further be strengthened.  In addition, a transparent and thoroughly informed decision about the direction of DCPS food services must be made with community input.

We feel strongly that DCPS should prioritize school food. Nutritious school food is paramount to the health and learning of children in the District. One out of every three children in the city are at risk of hunger or are food insecure.  About 70 percent of all school children in the District qualify for free or reduced-price meals and receive the majority of their daily nutrition at school. About 20 percent of children 10-17 are obese, ranking D.C. 9th nationwide.

In the coming months, the D.C. School Food Project is poised to raise awareness of this critical issue in the community.  Some parents are already raising alarms that the food quality has declined this year; that the standards have been watered down; and that Chartwells, with a new contract as of SY 2012-2013, is serving food that only nominally meets the requirements. This adds to the concern that Chartwells, whose parent company recently settled a $18 million court case for its failing to pass on rebates to NYC schools, is more concerned about earning a large profit margin than about the quality of the food it serves.

Our group has deep roots in the community; expertise in nutrition, education, and policy; and an unwavering commitment to healthy food for our children.  We welcome the opportunity to talk with you further about our concerns.


Jody Tick and Emily Gustafsson-Wright (Co-Chairs) and
Members of the D.C. School Food Project

cc: Kaya  Henderson, Anthony de Guzman, Allen Lew, Christopher Murphy, Hosanna Mahaley, Sandra Schickler, Cedric Jennings, Beatriz Otero, Brenda Donald, Mary Cheh, Phil Mendelson, Tommy Wells, David Catania, David Grosso, Vincent Orange, Anita Bonds, Jim Graham, Jack Evans, Muriel Bowser, Kenyan McDuffie, Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, Erika Wadlington, Drew Newman, Tom Sherwood, Kojo Nnamdi, Kavitha Cardoza, Emma Brown.