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By Gaëlle Fournier March 14, 2019

Do Missouri schools for the severely disabled need a kitchen?

State Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, raised concerns about schools in her district for children with special needs not having kitchens.

"The schools in my district don't have a kitchen," she said in a Jan. 29 general hearing on the education budget, after members of the committee discussed services for children with disabilities.

Not having a kitchen raises some important issues in terms of food and equipment, especially for children with special needs. So we decided to take a closer look at Kelly's statement, to check if these schools were really missing a kitchen.

A kitchen not used to cook

When we asked Kelly about her statement, she said she was specifically referring to Skyview, a school for children with disabilities. The school currently has 12 students.

She clarified: "The schools in my district do have a kitchen, but not one that is properly equipped for children with disabilities."

Kelly said the kitchen was not used to cook but only to heat up food. So where do meals for the students come from?

"Mountain Grove public schools deliver them food," Kelly said. "But if the local school is closed, and they haven't saved leftovers, then they have no food."

The school's building administrator, Michelle Sharp, said it is challenging to figure out meals when the local schools are closed.

"On those days, it is my responsibility to find food for my children," Sharp said.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education requires that a school check prices at local grocery stores and purchase specific approved items. The school is required to cover those costs. Sharp said it is time consuming to meet all of the requirements in the DESE policy.

Sharp has reached out to local businesses and restaurants who have provided food, and Kelly has purchased the food twice.

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Skyview is not the only school in this situation. Sharp also serves as building administrator for Ozark Horizon, another school for students with severe disabilities that also lacks a functioning kitchen. But there could be other schools around the state also facing these issues, Sharp said.

From 2012 to 2017, Reta House worked as the building administrator at both Skyview and Ozark Horizon schools. She said it had always been this way, though at the time her only option was to go to the grocery store when local schools were closed.

"We are not treated the same"

There is a difference even between the buildings of the Missouri Schools for the Severely Disabled. Some buildings have their own kitchen and cook food while some do not and depend on the help of local public schools.

"We need to have the same facilities as all the schools," Sharp said. "Our students should not be treated any differently."

During a meeting of building administrators in August, Sharp said she raised the issue.

House said her direct area supervisor with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was aware of the situation, but she does not know if the information was actually transmitted to DESE supervisors.

When asked, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said the state doesn’t have set policies on school kitchens.

Nancy Bowles, DESE communication coordinator, said, after reaching out to the spokesperson for the Food and Nutrition Services office, that there are no requirements for how large or well-equipped a school kitchen is. "They must be able to prepare and serve a reimbursable meal."

The schools are allowed to use an outside vendor to provide meals.

Our ruling

Kelly said, "The schools in my district don't have a kitchen."

The schools do have a kitchen and appliances but not commercial ones that would be found in a public school. The school does not have the resources or staff to be able to prepare meals for the students in the school and has to rely on local public schools to feed the students.

We rate the claim Half True.

Our Sources

Interview, Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, 2019

Interview, Michelle Sharp, Building Administrator of Skyview and Ozark Horizon Schools for the Severely Disabled, Feb. 19, 2019

Interview, Reta House, previous Building Administrator of Skyview and Ozark Horizon Schools for the Severely Disabled, Feb. 27, 2019

Email exchange with Nancy Bowles, communications coordinator for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), from Feb. 20 to Feb. 27, 2019

Interview, Jeff Ward, Environmentalist for Wright County Health Department, Feb. 15, 2019

Interview, Abbie McFerron, Nutrition Program Specialist for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Feb. 15, 2019

Email sent to LeAnn Craighead, School Business Director for Missouri Schools for the Severely Disabled, Feb. 20, 2019

Springfield News Leader, 'Unsanitary conditions' alleged at Springfield school for children with severe disabilities, accessed on Feb. 20, 2019.

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More by Gaëlle Fournier

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