ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Rochester City School District has plans to lay off 221 non-teaching positions: 67% of their food service staff, and 57% of their school safety officers — those percentages also based off of current vacancies.

All of this as the RCSD tries to overcome financial difficulties that have only grown worse since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“The impact is devastating, especially to the lowest-paid workers in the district”, says Dan DiClemente with the Board of Education Non-Teaching Employees. He adds all these numbers equal real people. “These are city residents. Mostly African-American, Hispanic, immigrants…that really rely on these jobs.”

DiClemente says during the COVID shutdown, food service workers were on the front lines feeding students every single day. He says, “essential then, essential now.”

“So that’s why it’s a little difficult to take because these people put their safety at risk, and now they’re kind of being cast aside,” he says.

And there are different ideas being worked on now to at least keep some the cafeteria workers going, including a ‘Meals on Wheels’ type of program. The current ‘feeding sites’ at schools he says won’t be appealing when people have to walk miles in the winter. 

“Six out of eight kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” says Fidel Torres, a Bi-lingual RCSD Cook Manager and fresh father.

Torres says many youngsters rely on school food to give them essential nutrition. He like many others Wednesday, got his layoff notice in the mail.

“It breaks my heart that all they see is just a piece of paper, not seeing the after effects. The city, these kids, these families need these meals,” he says choking up.

DiClemente says the hiring process for food service and safety officers is about two to three months. It’s background checks, thumbprints, training and a lot more than you’d think. He says this COVID shut down won’t last forever, and when RCSD does decide to fully reopen, good luck trying to quickly re-hire 221 positions. 

“To hire people back in, with that kind of knowledge and all those boxes checked, is going to be impossible,” he says.

DiClemente is hoping the Board of Education can find some kind of resolution when they meet again next Thursday.

Fidel Torres and his family.