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State College school board rejects controversial Papa John’s pizza bid

Members of the State College Area School District Board of Directors rejected a controversial bid to purchase Papa John’s delivered pizza for the current school year.

The board voted 6 to 3 to reject the bid, with Board President Amber Concepcion, Vice President Amy Bader and board members Dan Duffy, Laurel Zydney, Gretchen Brandt and Lori Bedell opposed and Jim Leous, Scott Fozard and David Hutchinson in favor.

Papa John’s gained national attention in 2018 when Forbes reported the company’s ex-CEO and board chairman John Schnatter used the N-word in a conference call following remarks in late 2017 criticizing NFL national anthem protests for negatively impacting shareholders. Schnatter has since resigned and sold most of his company shares, though he remains the largest shareholder with 19% stake in the company.

Last year, the board voted pulled its bid for Papa John’s to provide delivered pizza to elementary and middle school students and went with Domino’s instead. It made the decision based on an internal recommendation that Schnatter’s racist remarks violated the school climate policy.

This year, in keeping with “restorative justice practices,” district administration recommended Papa John’s delivered pizza again. It found the local Papa John’s franchise had the lowest cost per delivered pizza, and that both the corporation and local franchisee had taken steps to support diversity and equity.

A coalition of district parents and community members opposed the latest recommendation on the grounds that Schnatter still owns shares in the company and that, regardless of local efforts, support of the company shows support of bigotry.

“I am most appreciative and encouraged by school board members that voted down Papa John’s,” said SCASD parent Lorraine Taylor, who was part of that coalition. “When families of color say they are hurt by actions or lack of actions, leadership must listen to those that are directly affected by their decisions.”

Community members, including two State High students, spoke during public comment and the board discussed the bid for almost an hour. Before the vote, Bajco CEO Nadeem Bajwa and Debbie Riggins, Bajco director of operations who oversees the two State College Papa John’s franchises, talked about the company’s “commitment to promoting social equity and building community relationships,” according to a SCASD release.

Bajwa said, regardless of the board’s decision about the contract, his company would continue its local efforts in community building.

“I am proud of the brave students that spoke up last night,” said Taylor. “I want to believe their presence played a role in rejecting the bid. The decision says to the community can and must do better at listening to those that are directly impacted.”

The board members who supported the bid said they viewed its approval as “an opportunity for students to see restorative justice practices being carried out,” including acknowledging harm, listening and reconciliation, said a district release.

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