This June 14 photo shows Sít’ Eetí Shaanáx – Glacier Valley Elementary School. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

This June 14 photo shows Sít’ Eetí Shaanáx – Glacier Valley Elementary School. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

District OKs ‘milk’ incident investigation, extension of food vendor’s contract

Juneau School Board approves third-party probe, allowing NANA to serve food for six more months

A third-party investigation into last month’s “milk” incident at Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ – Glacier Valley Elementary School and a six-month contract extension of the food vendor responsible for the mishap were approved Tuesday by the Juneau Board of Education.

The extension until Dec. 31 was approved after NANA Management Services was deemed “very diligent and responsible” in cooperating with initial investigations and making changes to prevent similar incidents in the future, according to Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss.

“Not only was their response through, but it was very swift,” she said, noting new training measures have already been implemented and the district has few practical alternatives given the need to have a food vendor in place when the new school year begins roughly a month from now.

Twelve children and two adults drank floor sealant served to them June 14 during a summer program breakfast at the school. The mix-up was blamed on similar-looking pouches of sealant and milk being incorrectly put on pallets for shipping to the district, stored in a warehouse only meant for food and an employee failing to observe a “sip before serve” policy during the breakfast.

Nobody suffered lasting harm, but the incident attracted nationwide media attention and widespread local criticism due to the district taking hours to notify parents and multiple violations of policy by the food service company.

The school board took up final action on the third-party investigation and contract extension during a special meeting, following several previous meetings when various aspects of the incident and corrective actions going forward were at times discussed at length. Both actions passed unanimously Tuesday with relatively little discussion and no testimony from members of the public other than NANA officials.

The guidelines for third-party investigation, compiled by Juneau City Attorney Robert Palmer, authorize spending up to $31,000 for food service protocols and $10,000 for emergency communications policies.

“The intent (of the first) is to undertake a holistic review and make recommendations of food service programs in JSD managed facilities to prevent incidents like the June 14 floor sealant consumption from happening again,” a memo presented to the board states. A similar overview is presented for the communications investigation.

NANA’s contract, which has existed since 2018, expired on June 30. While the district has food service in place for its summer programs, a one-year extension the board was set to approve the same day the floor sealant incident happened resulted in the matter being put on hold. The six-month extension allows for full investigation of the incident involving floor sealant prior to a full year commitment to using NANA services,” the extension language approved by the board states.

While board members asked a few questions Tuesday about the extent of NANAs remedial actions and feasibility of alternatives, there was little real resistance to the idea of a shorter extension.

“We have to have food on the first day of school,” board member Martin Stepetin Sr. said. While he has a lot more to say about the long-term issues involved, the short-term “is the most important thing about this discussion…I feel like NANA is doing everything they can.”

The extension includes a 7% increase in meal prices, which was part of the original year-long extension.

Weiss, when asked how thoroughly the district examined alternatives such as the district providing food services directly to the students, said such an action would require hiring and training 30 to 40 employees by the time school starts.

“There’s lots of layers to get to that point in five weeks,” she said. “So it’s really implausible at this point.”

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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