front page - search - community 

Pizza-peddling principal put back in post

(Published April 5, 1999)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

A popular principal who was suspended for allowing the sale of pizza to students at a Northwest junior high school has been reinstated to his post effective April 5 after two tumultuous weeks of debate, criticism and protests in support of the principal.

Reginald Moss, principal at Alice Deal Junior High School, was suspended by D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman March 23 after Inspector General E. Barrett Prettyman announced that an investigation found Moss had allowed a Wisconsin Avenue pizza chain to sell pizza to students in violation of federal and school policies for the school lunch program. Prettyman had recommended Moss be fired from his job for those violations. Prettymanís investigation reportedly has been expanded to include nearly 20 schools where similar practices are believed to have taken place.

Mossí suspension for allowing a pizza chain to sell to students during lunch hour in direct violation of the rules has prompted public protest, while officials point to years of school system directives that appear to clearly spell out the potential disciplinary consequences for principals who break the rules. Students, parents and school activists protested Ackermanís decision to suspend Moss, saying that Moss was acting in the best interests of the school and children by trying to raise money for the schoolís student activities.

"Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is to be commended for rejecting the ill-informed and ill-advised recommendations of the inspector general," Councilwoman Kathleen Patterson, D-Ward 3, said in a statement.

Moss received a letter from Associate Superintendent Katrina Robertson Ross informing him of the decision to allow him back to work. The letter also set forth a "proposed action" to suspend him without pay for 10 days based on the findings stated in the IGís report.

Ross would not comment on the proposed suspension, citing Mossí privacy rights. "There is no final disposition on the matter," Ross said.

"What is most important is that I am able to return to Deal Junior High, especially during the critically important final months of the year," Moss said in a statement issued by his lawyers. "But I also want my supporters and the public to know that I must and will pursue every available avenue to challenge the unfair and unfounded conclusions in the IG report."

School board president Wilma Harvey said Ackermanís office had not told her of the decision to return Moss to work when she was reached for comment.

"Iím pleasantly surprised," Harvey said. "Iím pleased for the children at Deal because this is a very important time of year, when they begin studying for the Stanford 9 tests."

Since at least 1990, the D.C. public school system has prohibited schools that participate in the national school lunch program from allowing any outside food, regardless of its nutritional value, to be sold on school premises until the last lunch period is over.

The inspector generalís investigation found that Moss, who has been principal of Alice Deal Junior High School for 25 years, allowed a pizza chain on Wisconsin Avenue to sell pizza to students during lunchtime hours from September 1996 through June 1998. During that period, the pizza company made cash payments to the assistant principal and business manager totaling 30 percent of the gross sales at the school each day. Most of the money ended up in the student activity fund, although some of it was unaccounted for, probably due to all transactions being made in cash and no receipts were written. Because of this, the IGís report said, it was impossible to determine how much money the school received from the pizza sales.

According to a directive issued Sept. 7, 1990, that prohibits competitive food sales in schools, "school principals are charged with the responsibility of ensuring adherence to this directive and may be subject to disciplinary action for failure to adhere to this directive." Another directive dated Feb. 24, 1998, reiterated the ban on competitive food sales.

The practice of selling pizza during lunch hours also violates the federal rules for participating in the school lunch program, said Phil Shanholtzer, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agricultureís Food and Nutrition Services. Schools are forbidden from contracting with food vendors that supply only "a la carte" items rather than a full nutritious meal.

Despite these regulations, school activists and parentsí associations have said the practice is widespread and have defended the outside food sales as a creative solution for raising funds for cash-strapped schools.

Shanholtzer said the federal government currently plans no action against the D.C. school district for the apparent violations.

"I think that as long as the District is able to take care of its problems, thereís no need for us to do anything at this point," Shanholtzer said. "Itís going to take a fairly extreme set of circumstances for the USDA to withhold funds (from D.C.ís school lunch program.)" He said USDA in the past has withheld school lunch funds from other jurisdictions, but that it has always been a temporary measure.

School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman had said she would make a decision about Mossí status at the beginning of April, but a school spokeswoman said Mossí attorney asked Ackerman to delay any action and that the superintendent has not made any decision regarding Moss.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator