Dad: Cafeteria glass shards injured son
He’s ‘outraged’ the district made no mention of injuries.
The father of a secondgrader at Kocurek Elementary claims his son was hurt by glass shards at school last week when the glass panel of a school cafeteria serving unit broke.
Parent Craig Smith said he was “outraged” that Austin school district officials put out a news release making no mention of any injuries from broken glass that fell from the so-called sneeze guards — barriers between the food and serving line — at Kocurek and Allison Elementary cafeterias on Nov. 29. The panels were removed from 18 schools that day, and a letter was sent to parents informing them of the incidents.
Smith said his 8-yearold son was in the serving line when he received six small “lacerations” to his face, neck and arm. The next day, he also had a small amount of bloody stool — a possible symptom of having swallowed a sharp object. Smith informed the school that day, and he took his son to Austin Regional Clinic, but an exam showed no signs of cuts to his mouth or throat, he said.
The district didn’t issue a public statement on the glass until Dec. 5, when it said it appeared no students had ingested any of the glass. Officials also told reporters there had been no injuries.
However, this week, district spokesman Alex Sánchez said a small piece of glass, about 1 centimeter by 1.5 centimeters, “rolled off” the panel and hit a student’s nose, but left only a scratch.
“The student did have a small little cut, a minor cut, and the nurse immediately attended to it,” Sánchez said. “There was no indication that a major injury occurred.” Sánchez said that account is corroborated by a school surveillance video, which cannot be released because of child privacy laws.
Smith said his son took a piece of glass from his mouth while eating his school lunch and showed it to a cafeteria worker.
“The whole thing is being swept under the rug,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to gain anything by this. I’m not trying to make a huge issue, but if people aren’t aware, it can happen again.”
Said Sánchez: “We did know about the minor cut, that we knew, but when you asked if anyone was injured, we thought major injury. We were not trying to hide the fact that a student was in the serving line when that glass fell from the panel. We immediately attended to the student. We immediately communicated with the family. It wasn’t one of those things that was a major incident.”
The sneeze guards were part of new serving counters installed at 18 schools this summer. They have been temporarily replaced with fitted plastic guards while custom replacements are fabricated. Last week, school officials said breakage occurred around the joint where a metal bracket holds in the sneeze guard.
Lindsay Clark, vice president of marketing for Houston-based Mod-UServe, the manufacturer of the serving counters, said in the company’s 18 years it has never encoun- tered similar issues and is still trying to figure out what caused the breakage in Austin.
“We have had no experience like this in our time as a manufacturer of commercial food services,” Clark said. “We have a good track record.”
Clark said the company uses tempered glass, which is the industry standard for the units. The glass is purchased from a Houston vendor, but Clark declined to disclose that company’s name. At the district’s request, he said, the guards will be replaced with a plastic material.