Kauai school works on lunch fixes

Problems with elementary school food service have been largely corrected after Always Investigating uncovered cases of  young students at one Kauai school were forced to skip lunch.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education said it would make sure every child had enough time and enough food when it comes to lunch.

Did they put those promises into action? We flew to Kauai to make sure.

At Kapaa Elementary School, kids line up eagerly for school lunch. They’re served like clockwork, and there’s plenty to go around.

But it wasn’t always this way.

“There was a concern of the kids not getting their meals and not having enough time to finish their lunch, and nothing was happening. It had gone on for like eight months,” said Wanda Stagg, a concerned grandparent. “There was no change, so we were like, let’s see if you can investigate it and make a difference.”

So we did and here’s what we found.

The elementary school had been often running out of food. Sometimes the shortage was just one of the several items on the menu. But while they hustled to get more from the nearby high school kitchen that cooks it all, the youngest children, last on the lunchtime pecking order, sometimes had no time left to eat.

“After your report, the day after your report, things shifted immediately,” Stagg said. “Kids were no longer waiting. They had enough time to eat. They didn’t have to wait for their trays, and it was great, and it’s been that way since.”

So what had gone wrong and what changed for the better?

“When we heard about it, immediately we checked with the cafeteria manager,” said Kapaa High School principal Daniel Hamada. “I’m really confident that now that we are relooking at the numbers submitted on a daily basis. I am really confident that the staff knows what to do.”

Hamada is talking about the headcount of kids expected to buy cafeteria food on any given day. It’s kind of a moving target, thanks to taste buds.

“I don’t know about when you were going to school, but I know kids love certain type of meals, and that’s where cafeteria staff are key,” Hamada said. “They know what meals kids gravitate to, whether it’s breakfast , midmorning snack or lunch. We feed every student and no one is turned away, and we’re going to make sure we continue.”

Over on the elementary school side, estimating that count turned out to be the crucial missing piece.

“Prior to when it was reported on the news, we didn’t give them any lunch counts,” said Kapaa Elementary School principal Jason Kuloloia.

Always Investigating asked, how did they know what to give you before?

“I don’t know,” Kuloloia said. “I taught at high schools and intermediate schools in the classroom and I never did give a lunch count, so there is some kind of magic that they do to find out how many meals they’re going to serve each day.”

Technology that was sitting there all along now helps the cafeteria magicians.

“Every morning by a certain time, my office staff calls the cafeteria manager and gives them a count,” Kuloloia explained, “so that means we have to train the teachers how to use the system to get a lunch count into the system so we could get it to the high school.”

Always Investigating asked, was that a new system they had to invent or something central could help them put together?

“It’s been in the system as far as attendance, the same system we take attendance,” Kuloloia said. “There’s a way to record who is going to get lunch, so it was pretty easy to implement.”

Besides preparing enough food in advance, the other problem we reported was kids having to leave right at the bell if food service ran late, regardless of if they had eaten.

We asked if anything changed in terms of allowing the younger kids to stay longer even if the bell rang.

“Yes, the kids they can stay and eat their lunches, they don’t have to rush,” Kuloloia said. “We’ll give them enough time to finish and get to class, and we’ll let the teachers know why they’ll be late to class.”

We asked how families felt after the changes were implemented.

“I think it’s fantastic because it hasn’t occurred. It’s been two months, so let’s see. Let’s hope it’s a steady, consistent change and it’s been resolved,” Stagg said. “There’s a dialog happening that didn’t happen earlier, so thank you, we’re grateful.”

KHON2 told the elementary school principal that the parents had been very pleased, but that they and we want to know will it stay this way?

“We’ll do our best, yes,” Kuloloia said.

After our visit to Kauai, parents reported a late food service this week in which the kindergarteners got their trays after their recess bell had rung.

The DOE says there was a mistake in the lunch count, so some kids had to wait to be served.

“The cafeteria staff at Kapaa Elementary recognize a mistake was made in Tuesday’s lunch count that caused some students to wait to be served their lunches,” said Kauai complex area superintendent Bill Arakaki. “However, at no time were the students not going to be fed a full lunch meal. The school continues to work on ways to ensure this does not happen again.”

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