On June 17, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced the formation of a task force charged with identifying best practices for implementing culturally and religiously inclusive school calendars and serving school meals that accommodate more dietary restrictions.

“When our school environments reflect the history, values, cultures, and traditions of the communities they serve our students are better positioned to learn and thrive,” said Governor Northam. “The Task Force on Culturally Inclusive School Meals and Calendars will identify best practices in promoting knowledge about religious observances within our schools and explore how school nutrition programs can ensure students have access to meals that suit their dietary constraints and honor their cultural practices.”

The Task Force is divided into two subcommittees, one focused on developing recommendations on how to offer more diverse school meal options to students who come from different religious or ethnic backgrounds, and another focused on exploring best practices in the implementation of culturally inclusive school calendars.

“Virginia’s schools benefit from increasing cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity—this diversity is a great asset, but also presents a challenge as schools strive to serve students of a variety of backgrounds equitably and compassionately,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “This Task Force will provide recommendations to school divisions and higher education institutions that are seeking to expand meal offerings and recognize important religious and cultural holidays such as Eid al-Fitr, Ash Wednesday, Lunar New Year, Yom Kippur, Diwali, and other days that may not be acknowledged on school calendars but bear significant cultural importance to many students in our classrooms.”

Secretary of Education Atif Qarni chaired the first meeting of the Task Force on Culturally Responsive School Meals and Calendars in late May. The Task Force includes students, parents, educators, local school division leadership, school nutrition experts, faith leaders, and representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, No Kid Hungry, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia School Board Association, the Virginia Parent Teacher Association, and the Virginia Education Association.

Members of the Task Force include:

  • Farah Ahmad of Gainesville, Community Service, Interfaith, and Government Relations Assistant, McLean Islamic Center
  • Sandra C. Curwood of Richmond, State Director, Office of School Nutrition Programs, Virginia Department of Education
  • Megan Day of Catlett, Student and Virginia Future Farmers of America State President Hurunnessa Fariad of Sterling, Head of Outreach, All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS Center)
  • Lindsey Fox of Blacksburg, Interim District Director, Parkway District, Virginia Parent Teacher Association
  • Nina Ha of Blacksburg, Director, Asian Cultural Engagement Center, Virginia Tech
  • Heidi Hertz of Richmond, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Qiu Jin of Virginia Beach, Director, Institute of Asian Studies and Associate Professor of History, Old Dominion University
  • Monica Manns of Richmond, Chief Equity, Diversity, and Opportunity Officer, Henrico County Public Schools
  • Karishma Merchant of Alexandria, Senior Education and Workforce Policy Advisor, Office of United States Senator Tim Kaine
  • Sarah Moran of King George, Registered Dietitian, The Dr. Yum Project
  • Vijay Ramnarain of Chesterfield, Director of Support Services, Virginia Department of Education
  • Adam Russo of Manassas, Director, Office of School Food and Nutrition Services, Prince William County Public Schools
  • Lyons Sanchezconcha of Richmond, Educator, Richmond Public Schools
  • Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky of Silver Spring, Maryland, Director of Intergroup Relations and Rabbi in Residence, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington
  • Beth Teigen of Powhatan, Chief of Staff to the Superintendent, Henrico County Public Schools
  • Jonathan C. Zur of Richmond City, President and CEO, Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities

The Task Force on Culturally Inclusive School Meals and Calendars will meet biweekly throughout June and July to identify best practices and form recommendations. The Task Force will present their recommendations to the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, and a convening of superintendents, school nutrition directors, higher education representatives, school board members, and other relevant stakeholders in August 2021.