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.