WESTFORD — In a busy night, members of the Nashoba Valley Technical School Committee approved a number of changes to their policies and voted to increase the price of school lunches.
“We were always behind in the cost of school lunches,” said Superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz of the increase. “It’s a big increase and we should have done it last year.”
In a report to the School Committee, Klimkiewicz listed the cost of school lunches at a number of area high schools, with the average coming to $2.76 for students and $3.46 for adults.
Currently, Nashoba Tech charges $2 for students.
The superintendent told committee members that the reason for the increase was the rising cost of meals to the district due largely to federal requirements that all meals represent the four basic food groups, including fruit and vegetables.
Adhering to the requirements is needed in order for the district to qualify for food-assistance grants from the government that help pay for those students who eat free due to financial hardship.
Klimkiewicz said the number of such students keeps climbing every year, with the latest figure being 20 percent of the student body receiving free meals.
As a result of those factors, she recommended that the cost of meals at the school be increased to $2.75 for students and $3.50 for adults, bringing it into line with the regional average.
Also at their meeting of April 9, School Committee members voted on a number of amendments to the district’s policies, including “nondiscrimination on the basis of gender identity.”
The move comes in the wake of a directive from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which amended the wording of its existing policy adding gender identity to its list of protected classes of students which also includes “race, color, sex … religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.”
The change in the department’s policy was made in response to state law mandating nondiscrimination against “transgender” individuals.
Wording in the policy change, however, does not include instruction on how such nondiscrimination is to be implemented, sparking brief comment by the superintendent on questions of restroom privileges.
Klimkiewicz noted that the law allowed transgender individuals the choice of boys or girls restrooms even if they considered themselves a member of the opposite sex only in their own minds.
As a result, the superintendent said that until more specific school policy can be hammered out, the restroom in the nurse’s office could be used by those students “uncomfortable” with sharing a restroom with a member of the opposite sex.
According to the department’s wording, “No person shall be excluded or discriminated against in admission to a public school of any town or in obtaining the advantages, privileges, and courses of study of such public school.”
Although no advice is given on how to make such a nondiscrimination policy work, the department’s directive does offer some words of comfort to school districts.
“This guidance is intended to help school and district administrators take steps to create a culture in which transgender and gender nonconforming students feel safe, supported, and fully included.”
Committee members also voted to accept policy changes that would allow students to self-administer epinephrine injections in school; the distribution of influenza immunization to students on an annual basis; the acquisition of state and federal background checks and fingerprinting for determining the suitability of current and prospective employees of the district; and making sure that expelled students continue to receive instruction.
Committee members also voted to approve the expenditure of $27,440 for unforeseen expenses dealing with the design of a planned track and field facility.
Those expenses were incurred after the Westford Conservation Commission turned down the district’s application to build the facility when plans would have had it endanger nearby wetlands.
Going back to the drawing board, the engineering firm hired by the school to design the complex was able to reconfigure things so that there was no intrusion and to resubmit the altered designs to the Planning Board for review.
The School Committee voted last year to authorize the superintendent to move forward with a survey of the acreage behind the existing school building where the track and field complex is to be located as well as establish the boundary between school property and adjacent St. Mary’s Drive.
Landtech Consultants Inc. were hired to do the surveying and later Tighe & Bond was brought on board for engineering services covering the design of the complex, which is to include a six-lane running track, synthetic turf, a prepared practice field area, and eventually four new tennis courts.
The entire estimated cost of the new sports complex has been estimated at between $1.5 million and $2 million.
The School Committee also voted to authorize Klimkiewicz to seek bids for construction materials needed for a second project, that of renovating an existing barn building into a new dance and art studio.
Cost of renovating the building has been estimated at $70,000 which is to be raised from within the district’s existing budget.
The renovation work is expected to be conducted by students in the schools various shop programs.