Petition resurfaces, parents push Wake Co. Schools to use more than just water to clean lunch tables

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Friday, January 24, 2020
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Parents continue to ask for a different cleaning practice of Wake County Public School cafeterias.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A petition launched by a Wake County mom during the 2017 flu season has resurfaced, getting several hundred more signatures overnight as parents complain the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) has ignored their requests for a different cleaning practice in school cafeterias.

As the I-Team reported, WCPSS abides by its longstanding policy to only use water to clean cafeteria tables in between lunch sessions during the school day while students are present.

"This isn't just about my son, this is a health risk," said Alli Walton, the mom of two WCPSS students who signed the petition back in 2017. "It's gross."

RELATED: Parents upset about Wake Schools' use of plain water to clean lunch tables

Both of her children, despite getting the flu vaccine this year, came down with the flu a couple of weeks ago which was more severe in her elementary-aged son who has a food allergy.

RELATED: 6 more flu deaths in reported in North Carolina, season total now at 41

ABC11 requested an on-camera interview with administrators; a spokesperson sent the following statement instead:

Our practices consider the safety of all students with medical conditions and allergies including, but not limited to food and environmental. Cleaning practices are driven by WCPSS Food Allergy Guidelines and are based on scientific literature and consultations provided by area medical practices including UNC and Duke.

Following those guidelines, our child nutrition staff uses a surface sanitizer on tables before and after the breakfast session and after the final lunch session. These cleanings with sanitizer take place when no students are present and there is ample time for the sanitizing solution to dry. Until the sanitizing solution has completely dried, it can be toxic to some children. The rapid turn-around of students in our cafeterias during lunch sessions does not allow for the safe use of chemicals between classes. During these transitions, tables are cleaned using water.

In order to keep all students safe, we stress the importance of thorough and frequent hand washing throughout the day, including before and after meals. For students with severe allergies, we can make safety accommodations, which can include sitting in an assigned seat, using a barrier such as a placemat or paper towel, eating out of the student's lunchbox, and/or putting an allergy alert sign on the student's lunchbox.

We also stress to parents the importance of not sending their children to school when they are sick or displaying signs of illness. Parents should keep their children home if they're showing any of these symptoms:

  • fever of 100 degrees F or higher
  • nausea or vomiting
  • severe headache
  • diarrhea
  • red, watery eyes with yellow drainage
  • undiagnosed rash

Children should stay home until they have been without fever and fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cleaning and disinfecting surfaces are part of a broad approach to preventing infectious diseases in schools.

While getting a flu shot is the first line of defense, along with staying home when sick, washing hands, ad covering coughs and sneezes, the CDC provides tips for cleaning and disinfecting to slow the spread of flu which include at a minimum, using soap and water to remove germs from surfaces.

Walton said she's sharing the petition with other parents, trying to spread the word to those who may be unaware of how WCPSS is cleaning tables during the day.

"Some of them don't have kids in school yet and some of them do, but they were all horrified to hear that in between lunches they're just having children wipe down the tables with water," Walton said. "I want (WCPSS) to start cleaning the tables with some sort of cleaning product even if they have to rinse with water afterwards to remove the residue, between lunches."