Dad: Cafe­te­ria glass shards in­jured son

He’s ‘out­raged’ the district made no men­tion of in­juries.

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Melissa B.taboada mtaboada@states­man.com Con­tact Melissa Taboada at 445-3620. Twit­ter: @melis­sa­taboada

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.

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