Despite an online petition launched amid a deadly flu season, Wake County schools are unlikely to change how they clean cafeteria tables.
Cafeteria workers use a surface sanitizer on tables after breakfast and after the final lunch session, when no students are present, said schools spokeswoman Heather Lawing. But during lunch sessions, students wipe down the tables with water between classes.
“Our practices consider the safety of all students with medical conditions and allergies,” Lawing said in an email Monday. “The rapid turnaround of students in our cafeterias during lunch sessions does not allow for the safe use of chemicals for all children.”
Given the severity of the 2017-18 flu season, Kira Kroboth, the parent behind the online petition that has about 1,700 signatures, is convinced the schools can do something to better protect students from the flu.
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“The biggest thing is they change classes so fast it’s not safe to use chemicals around kids, especially those that may have issues with chemicals, which I totally understand,” Kroboth said in a Facebook message on Monday. “My allergic son had asthma and skin issues. But the flu could be very dangerous for him. There has to be some happy medium.”
Kroboth’s petition, online at http://bit.ly/2ExF8N1, suggests the schools “take the paper towels and water spray away from the kids in the cafeteria and get a cleaning agent in the hands of adults.” The petition also calls on the schools to research safer alternatives to harsh cleaners – such as a hydrogen peroxide-based cleaner – if necessary.
The schools, on the other hand, think they have a more practical, entirely safe approach to stemming the spread of the flu.
“The best way to prevent the spread of the flu is for parents to not send children with flu-like symptoms to school,” Lawing said. “We’re also urging students and staff to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly at school.”
But in the schools, hand-washing is a suggestion, not a mandate, Kroboth said. “Without mandated hand washing before/after snack and lunch and the cleaning of surfaces with only water – our children are put at even greater risk of contracting the flu (and other sickness) during what’s already being predicted as a very dangerous flu season,” her petition says.
The cleanliness of school cafeteria tables is a familiar issue for Kroboth.
“My son has life-threatening nut allergies, so I learned about the water-wiping policy while fighting for soap and water cleaning for him,” she said.
With the help of a lawyer and the Americans with Disabilities Act, “his table space is cleaned with soap and water now,” Kroboth said.
Many parents share her concerns about cafeteria cleanliness, Kroboth said. “The food allergy community is very upset about the policy, and I started a Facebook group to try to get change in place,” she said.
The petition is a natural extension of her change campaign. “When flu hit in both my kids’ classes, I started the petition, because it is just as much about hygiene as it is food allergy safety now,” she said.
Kroboth knows she might be tilting at windmills. “But I think they (the schools) are figuring out I’m not going anywhere,” she said. “Even my second-grader said why can’t we just use soap from the bathroom and wash the tables like we wash our hands?”
Kroboth said she hopes to have at least 3,000 signatures on her petition before presenting it school leaders.
Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack