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Food Fight: School Superintendent Ed Shine Accuses Reporter of Adjective Abuse in Report on School Kitchens

Food_fightSuperintendent of Schools Ed Shine is accusing Journal News reporter Ernie Garcia of not paying attention in English class. Well, kinda, sorta.

The Journal News ran a story "Inspectors flunked Rye, Blind Brook school cafeterias" on Sunday, penned by Garcia, about health department violations in the Rye City middle school and high school kitchens.

Shine sent an email to parents Thursday evening trying to take the air out of the impending accusatory bubble stating reporter Garcia has an issue with "adjective accuracy". In Shine’s note he says:

"The reporter used words like “filthy” and “dirty” in discussion with school personnel, words that do not appear on the inspection reports and that are pejorative. We suggested to Mr. Garcia that he should not use adjectives that do not appear on the reports and should determine cause before jumping to a conclusion."

School_lunchGarcia has written similar stories on failed health inspections in New Rochelle, Pelham and Yonkers. Garcia told MyRye.com on Saturday:

"I think the health inspectors’ reports speak for themselves and readers should decide what they mean, be it dirty or not. My contention with school officials is that if these kitchens were simply messy at the time of inspection, why would they be classified as "unacceptable?""

You can look up the school cafeteria inspection reports in this database.

Shine’s email to parents is printed below, in its entirety.

What do you think of the prospect of dirty school kitchens? Leave a comment on MyRye.com at the bottom of this story.

To:  All Rye City School District Parents, Administrators, Faculty and Staff

From:  Edward J. Shine, Superintendent of Schools

April 17, 2008

The Journal News is running a series of reports on school kitchens. The reporter, Ernie Garcia, is requesting Department of Health inspection forms and apparently is honing in on districts that have received a status report other than “Acceptable” to write about. He has written about Yonkers , New Rochelle and Pelham, to date.

He is writing about the Rye High School and Middle School kitchens next, for there are some inspections marked “Unacceptable” with the following comments: “All counter area/all kitchen equipment must be washed down.” “Stove area floor not clean under equipment” “Freezer food items stored on the floor” and “No electric power at this time of inspection.” 

The reporter used words like “filthy” and “dirty” in discussion with school personnel, words that do not appear on the inspection reports and that are pejorative. We suggested to Mr. Garcia that he should not use adjectives that do not appear on the reports and should determine cause before jumping to a conclusion. “Must be washed down” does not mean “dirty” or “filthy.” It can also mean the inspector arrived in between food preparation work when the counter had not yet been cleaned for the next process. “Kitchen floor not clean under equipment” does not, conversely mean it is dirty; it can also mean that there has been spillage during food preparation and cooking and will be washed, as it always is, at the end of the day. It is absurd to cite a report that the kitchens are “Unacceptable” because there was a power outage when the inspector showed up – in this case the “Unacceptable” simply meant that the inspector didn’t inspect and had to return at a time when the power failure was over, yet Mr. Garcia includes that report in his tally of how many unacceptable reports he found on file. Cartons of food stacked on the floor of a contained freezer also do not connote “filthy” or “dirty.” Regardless of logic or fact, Mr. Garcia seems intent on writing a negative story about the school kitchens.

While we find this reprehensible and irresponsible, there is nothing we can do to prevent him from applying his own adjectives and interpreting the reports in a way that he feels will make a better story. There isn’t much news value, apparently, to the Journal News, in writing a story that our kitchens are really tightly managed and carefully cared for. There is tremendous damage caused by this kind of irresponsible reporting, however, and I wanted you to be aware of the probability of this story and be assured that the Health Department reports do not in any way reflect the negative implications of Mr. Garcia.

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