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Task force weighs in on inclusive school holidays, dietary practices

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The Task Force on Culturally Inclusive School Meals and Calendars issued its final report to Gov. Ralph Northam this week after sharing a meal with educators and students at Beville Middle School.

The full report is available here.

Recommendations include:

  • Helping schools understand the religious and cultural needs of their students,assess their cultural inclusivity practices, and identify opportunities for growth;
  • Creating culturally inclusive food pantries in partnership with local and faith-based organizations; and
  • Recognizing schools that implement innovative and inclusive school meal and calendar practices

“When schools acknowledge and celebrate diverse cultures, customs, and cuisines, it strengthens the sense of belonging in school communities,” Northam said. “I am pleased with the task force’s work to identify ways to support healthy, compassionate learning environments for students.”

The task force was charged with identifying best practices to equip schools to adopt culturally and religiously inclusive calendars and serve meals which accommodate more dietary restrictions.

The task force recommends that schools seek public input, to ensure the religions and cultures of students are represented on academic calendars. Under these recommendations, schools will not require the recognition of all significant dates on the calendar, nor eliminate holidays currently recognized, but will encourage schools and institutions of higher education to provide opportunities for students to celebrate the cultural and religious days that are significant to their tradition.

“School divisions and higher education institutions have the opportunity to be more inclusive in the meals they serve and holidays they recognize to honor the diversity of Virginia’s students and educators,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “The task force has outlined recommendations to promote expanded meal offerings and recognize religious and cultural holidays that bear significant importance to many students in our classrooms, even if they may not currently be acknowledged on school calendars.”

Members of the task force included:

  • Farah Ahmad of Gainesville, Community Service, Interfaith, and Government Relations Assistant, McLean Islamic Center
  • Sandra C. Curwood of Richmond City, State Director, Office of School Nutrition Programs, Virginia Department of Education
  • Megan Day of Catlett, Student and Virginia Future Farmers of America State President
  • Hurunnessa Fariad of Sterling, Head of Outreach, The All Dulles Muslim Society (ADAMS Center)
  • Lindsey Fox of Blacksburg, Interim District Director, VA PTA’s Parkway District
  • Nina Ha of Blacksburg, Director, Asian Cultural Engagement Center at Virginia Tech
  • Heidi Hertz of Richmond City, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Qiu Jin of Virginia BeachDirector of the Institute of Asian Studies and Associate Professor of History, Old Dominion University
  • Monica Manns of Richmond City, Chief Equity, Diversity Officer, Henrico County Public Schools
  • Karishma Merchant of Alexandria, Senior Education and Workforce Policy Advisor, Office of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
  • Sarah Moran of King George, Registered Dietitian, The Dr. Yum Project
  • Vijay Ramnarain of Chesterfield, Director of Support Services, Department of Education
  • Adam Russo of Manassas, Director of the Office of School Food and Nutrition Services, Prince William County Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha of Richmond City, Educator, Richmond Public Schools
  • Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky of Silver Spring, Maryland, Director of Intergroup Relations and Rabbi in Residence, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington
  • Beth Teigen of Powhatan, Chief of Staff to the Superintendent, Henrico County Public Schools
  • Jonathan C. Zur of Richmond City, President and CEO, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities

“All students, educators, and families should feel a sense of belonging in their schools and institutions of higher education,” said task force member Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky. “Religious and ethnic minorities often feel isolated when choosing how to observe a holiday that falls on a school day, especially if the school does not acknowledge the observances important to their traditions. By proactively and intentionally creating an inclusive academic calendar, PK-12 schools and higher education institutions can foster belonging and equity for all students, and allow students to more fully lean into their religious and cultural identities.”

Later this fall, the task force will present their recommendations to the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, and will share their recommendations with superintendents, school nutrition directors, higher education representatives, school board members, and other relevant stakeholders.

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