Lee County school cafeterias hit by worker shortage due to COVID-19

There are at least 100 Lee County school cafeteria workers and cooks out sick or in quarantine due to COVID-19, forcing employees still working to step up their daily routines, and the shortage is turning into a safety concern.

“I fear for everyone’s life because you don’t know what their medical situation is,” said Jamie Michael, the president of the Support Personnel Association of Lee County.

Michael represents the cafeteria workers of The School District of Lee County. She thinks of their health and safety first, and being short-staffed is taking a toll.

“We’re three weeks in, and people are exhausted,” Michael said. “That’s what I keep hearing from employees, ‘I am exhausted; I am doing more work and more work, and working overtime, and I’m exhausted.’”

To get the job done, people who don’t typically work in the cafeteria are getting on-the-job training.

“We have people that are pitching in, whether they’re staying late to work food service, whether they’re coming in early, you know, paraprofessionals pitching in,” Michael said.

The District has simplified the school cafeteria menu, with at least one hot meal option, and Interim Superintendent Ken Savage said he’s bringing back grab-and-go meals too.

Michael told us, every day, she hears from her people about how scared they are to show up to work, but they have no choice.

“It’s upsetting because I read the news like everybody else, and I worry for these people, but they cannot work remotely,” Michael said. “They have to go to work.”

Cafeteria workers have told Michael a mask mandate of some kind would be at least one safety measure to enhance confidence going to work.

Lee County School Board has turned down that option at this time.

A District said there are other reasons the simplified meal plan is in place.

  • Some food doesn’t get delivered as scheduled
  • It’s too much work to make originally planned choices without a full staff
Reporter:Gail Levy
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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