Thursday, February 16, 2012

Did the Food Police Invade a North Carolina Preschool?

Did the Food Police, or a Phantom, Invade a North Carolina Preschool?

We understand why schools try to keep guns, knives, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes out of the school.

We understand why some schools have metal detectors to enter the school, and are patrolled by police.

But food police in pre-kindergarten?

The Charlotte Journal published an alarming article on Tuesday: “Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced With Cafeteria Nuggets.” The article went viral, as well it should.

It conveyed the unconscionable image of food police terrorizing 4-year old girls.

North Carolina requires all pre-K programs to meet USDA guidelines. State officials were inspecting the West Hoke Elementary School in Raeford, North Carolina to see if it met U.S. Department of Agriculture Guidelines. An appropriate lunch would consist of meat, dairy, grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetable.

Her lunch consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, a side of banana, potato chips, and apple juice.

That apparently set off the food police. Someone, unidentified, a phantom inspector checked all 6 lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom.

The phantom inspector told the girl her lunch was not nutritious. The story gets a little murky at this point. At the minimum the girl was sent in line to get a milk.

Another version, her version, is that she was given a tray with the “nutritious” (my quotes – not her’s) lunch meal on it. Apparently the phantom inspector did not realize that cheese is dairy.

She ended up eating three chicken nuggets, and throwing the rest of the tray away. She brought her home-packed lunch back home.

To add insult to injury, the child brought home a bill for $1.25, the cost of the meal.

The mother told a local paper “What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch properly.” She said “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she really doesn’t care for vegetables.”

Here we have a choice of mother or Big Brother in raising a child.

That is very troubling.

We have a low level bureaucrat, a food zealot, or possibly a teacher, letting power go to his/her head – a constant problem with an increasingly intrusive government.

Bruce Alexander, The Director of Communications and Government Affairs with the United States Department of Agriculture said the inspector was a “North Carolina Education staff member conducting a review of the child care center.” He said a teacher “apparently was nervous during this state review and mishandled the situation.” That means it was a state employee, and a state issue.

He added that he thought the issue was resolved with an apology and that the parents were never charged for the nuggets.

The principal, Jackie Samuels, said he didn’t know anything about parents being charged that day for meals.

The state and school district refuse to identify the teacher, which is probably wise for the teacher’s safety. His or her name will eventually come out.

Actually, every agency as of earlier today says the inspector did not work for them.

Hence the phantom inspector and a possible coverup.

The red faced state has issued a followup. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued a statement: “We have determined that no employee of DHHS, nor the Division of Child Development and Early Education (DCDEE) or its contractors, instructed any child to replace or remove any meal items. Furthermore, it is not DHHS’ policy to inspect, go through or question any child about food items brought from home.”

Jani Kozlowski, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services’ children division, said the meal sounds like it would have passed the federal guidelines test.

District officials said the incident was more of a “misunderstanding.” If you will, what we have is a failure to communicate. Misunderstandings often occur when an adult is treating a 4-year old like a criminal.

Assistant Superintendent Bob Barnes said it was a misunderstanding. The official did not tell the child to replace her entire lunch, but to simply go through the line and get some milk. She simply misunderstood and replaced her entire meal.

“I think that the child became confused about what she had to do. I think that the child, for whatever reason, thought she had to go through the line and get a school meal which, that’s not our policy.”

He added “We are not the lunch bag police. But if we observe that a child who has brought their lunch is missing one of the key components of the healthy meal, we simply say, if it’s milk, here’s some milk, you may have it or not.”

Their strategy therefore is to project blame on the 4-year old, as innocent and sympathetic a complainant as you will find. That is unwise.

Grandma may have said it best “”Stay out of my kid’s lunchbox, or grandchildren’s for that matter.” She added the state should focus on academics.

Questions, questions, questions:

Who do you believe?

I have a plague in my office:

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said but, I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

I believe the child. The phantom was way out of line.

The second question: Are the State and School Board circling the wagons? Does the District really think that by blaming a 4-year old that the issue will disappear. Was it a teacher, lunch monitor, cafeteria monitor, or whom? The agencies can’t get their stories straight.

Even if the story, as originally reported, is not quite the full story, the reality is that the state should not be inspecting home lunches.

The third question. If the District and State are concerned with healthy meals, why do they serve chicken nuggets?

How many bureaucratic agencies are involved with pre-school meals?

The final series of questions are “Why do we find the original Charlotte Journal story believable? Is it the present or an omen of the future?

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