Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lunch-gate hits the big-time

Updated: 11:20 a.m: Did a government official tell a North Carolina girl that her turkey-and-cheese sandwich lunch was less nutritious than ... chicken nuggets? The mystery is deepening.

U.S. Reps Larry Kissell and Renee Ellmers are demanding answers this morning from Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The Lunch-gate story, which went viral and then some yesterday, has now made it to Washington.

First, a recap: As we noted yesterday, the Carolina Journal's Sara Burrows reported that a preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School in Raeford, N.C., "ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

"The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day," the Journal said.

One official, Jani Kozlowski, stated the obvious: “With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy. It sounds like the lunch itself would’ve met all of the standard.”

Indeed. We know bureaucracy can be maddening and sometimes nonsensical, but it's not often this plain dumb. So we wonder if there's more to the story.

UPDATE, 11:20: A spokeswoman from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services emailed us this morning to say "it wasn't us":

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is actively reviewing the events in Hoke County regarding a child’s lunch and its nutritional value. As DHHS continues to gather the facts of the case, 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. The facts we have gathered confirm that no DHHS employee or contractor did this.
WRAL in Raleigh reports that Hoke County school officials says the girl may have been confused. A government-funded pre-kindergarten program calls for officials to supplement children's lunches with items that could make the meals more nutritious. In this case, that may have been milk, says Hoke County assistant superintendent Bob Barnes. But instead of someone going to get the milk for the girl, Barnes says, she may have thought she had to go through the line for a new lunch.

Official details are sure to come. Kissell, a Democrat, and Ellmers, a Republican, are calling for an "immediate clarification" on this "government overreach" from Vilsack. Their letter is below. Stay tuned.

Peter St. Onge

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

As a parent and as a member of Congress, I am writing to voice my strong concern surrounding the events that took place on Jan. 30 at West Hoke Elementary School in Raeford, North Carolina, when a school official denied a child the right to eat the lunch provided to her by her mother. State and school officials have said that this measure was taken in an attempt to follow U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. This unfortunate and absolutely unnecessary event exemplifies the very definition of "government overreach" and further perpetuates a growing reason of why the American people continue to hold less and less faith in our government.

The content of a school lunch provided to a child by their parents should be governed only by the child's parents, not another government bureaucrat. This event is an embarrassment and distraction from the hard work done by teachers and staff throughout our schools and preschools in North Carolina, and throughout our nation.

With all of the work needed to be done to help fix our education system here in America, it is absolutely ridiculous that we are wasting both our time and resources with the inspection and disqualification of perfectly healthy school lunches—provided to a child by parents, at no cost to our state or federal government. This is completely unacceptable.

While I do not know the parent involved, it is clear from news reports that the content of the lunch she provided her daughter would meet the very same standards and expectations for a healthy lunch that I, and many others, have known throughout time. I have packed similar lunches for my two daughters throughout their childhood. While I support efforts to provide more nutritious and healthier fresh food options in our schools, at no point should a government official be allowed to deny a 4-year-old child access to a parent packed lunch or imply to a child that their lunch is wrong or there is a problem with the food provided to them by their mother or father.

As the Congressman who proudly represents Raeford, North Carolina, I welcome my colleague below in joining me in my call for an immediate clarification of this ridiculously misguided provision and a refocus of the work done by those tasked with implementing it. The health and education of our children is far too valuable to be caught up in yet another example of government overreach and unwarranted involvement in the lives of our proud American families. We hope that you will take this matter seriously.


misswhit said...

There was an agent inspecting all lunch boxes in the classroom????? Talk about overreach--the fact that any lunch boxes were being inspected by the government is mind boggling and downright scary!

Archiguy said...

Good grief. One "state employee" makes a dumb statement, probably out of ignorance, and our intrepid "lawmakers" are blowing this up into some kind of huge issue (and a Republican propaganda nugget as well - "another insideous government-sponsored overreach, blah, blah, blah")...?

Truly, we are doomed.

John said...

Archiguy... uh, last time I looked, Larry Kissel was a Democrat!

Shelly said...

It is a huge issue. Not only did someone take her lunch away, they told her that her mother packed it wrong. Do not be telling my child I am not looking out for his best interest. Stay out of my business.

heavymetal said...

WSOC is reporting that it was all a misunderstanding and that the kid was asked to get a carton of milk to have in addition to the lunch sent from home.

telamon said...

The old adage is true.

A lie will travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.

John said...

It certainly happened, a soundbite from the principal was shown on Headling News this morning stating that the lunch was flagged because it did not contain milk. Of course, other officials are quoted as saying the cheese met that requirement. It also makes one wonder what about kids with food allergies that prevent them from being able to drink milk and other things?

In a current era where the government seems to be taking a more and more active role in healthcare and diet (see ban on happy meals in San Francisco), an example like this is going to strike a nerve in many people.

The larger issue is that this illustrates the government's tendency to defend regulations that are broadly written by claiming that "common sense" will be applied in it's enforcement... yet we continue to see glaring examples of the lack of that very common sense among the workers tasked with enforcement! The issue becomes larger as public confidence in the competency and honesty of our elected officials continue to erode!

John said...


I saw that on HLN and I don't believe it for a minute. They screwed up and are now trying to talk their way out of it. Besides, according to the official they spoke with, milk wasn't an issue because the cheese qualified as a serving of dairy. Earlier reports sounded like they thought the meals had to include both a fruit and a vegetable and the official stated that was incorrect and that it was two servings of either fruit or vegetable and she had both covered by the banana and apple juice.

Bottom line, government school lunch regulations should apply ONLY to meals the school prepares and serves... they have no business intruding into the kid's lunch boxes. Just one more intrusion into parental rights.

linjamom said...

Let's just hope the child is not Lactose Intolerant. Are they aware of food allergies of these children?

Samuel said...

I have 4 kids 16 and under.

This whole situation is stupid and a total waste of time. I am amazed that taxpayer $$ are going to govt workers wasting time on this type of nonsense.

Shamash said...

I think this is known as "Fiddling While Rome Burns".

The nutritional value of chicken nuggets vs. turkey sandwiches is the LEAST of our school's problems.

Having a parent that cares enough to even pack a lunch gets closer to the REAL problem.

That and the kind of kids THOSE parents produce...

kindergarten thoughts said...

Inspecting lunch boxes? Outrageous! I think nutrition should be taken care of at home. Sure, some parents aren't going to feed nutritious meals but that's human nature to have some ignore good practices. I raised 3 healthy children. WHen my son was in elementary school ice cream was sold on Wednesdays. We got a note from the principal saying this was going to be suspended due to some children eating nothing but ice cream for lunch. I vehemently protested and won. My feeling is this...if he eats ice cream for lunch, he will get nutritious meals at breakfast and dinner. BUT I knew my son was making the right choice and eating what I had packed and enjoying the ice cream afterward. This is the start of making good choices...the kid that eats ice cream for lunch is probably the kid that will make other poor choices (alcohol, drugs, etc). Also, for the government to override what a parent wants the child to eat is unforgivable. I am also concerned that now the news reports are blaming the 4 year old for mistaking the direction! A four year old should be follwed to make sure the direction is followed. My bet is the child was following exactly what they were told to do!

Wiley Coyote said...

Demand Congress allow all school districts to FULLY audit the School Lunch Program for fraud.

The USDA overpaid benefits last year by $1.5 BILLION dollars.

CMS has 78,000 out of 138,000 students on the NSLP.

Matt M said...

It's actually called 'NUGGETGATE'.

And, the school has reiterated that anyone bringing a twinkie or canned soda will have their lunch confiscated and be given a school lunch and their parents will be charged.

Veronica said...

With Iran about to develop a nuclear weapon I sleep soundly knowing our leaders are focused on the big issues of the day.

Europeanexpat said...

It's been going for some time. I remember getting notes from preschool that my child should get two kinds of fruit and all items needed to be labeled separately. Of course most of the things ended up in trash at the end of the day because they couldn't be sent back home. But I needed to meet the regulations.

blockhead said...

Folks, for all the hysterics, I'm highly skeptical of this whole matter. We're placing a lot of reliance on what a little 4-year-old girl might or might not have understood correctly. This is vaguely similar to the case in Gastonia last week, in which the girl (13 or 14) told her mom a teacher hit her on the arm, and the school system summarily suspended the teacher, merely on the girl's word. I know it doesn't fit the right-wing, anti-government agenda (do any of you know anything about the John Locke Foundation? I rather doubt it), but it might behoove us to find out the facts before spouting off.

Anonymous said...

At a nearby Skippers you must request cole slaw since the proprietor noticed too much waste. Not public school, but still smart.

This Raeford thing is realllllly stupid and it reflects on the lack of common sense of the school's food police and perhaps other hirelings hovering around public school lunchrooms where they waste close to a third of what they are fed on a daily basis. If you can afford ipods, mp3s and cellphones youo make your own bloody lunch.