A North Carolina teacher has now been suspended indefinitely for her involvement in a food-police incident in which a preschooler’s lunch was “supplemented” with chicken nuggets, sparking national outrage last month.
The Carolina Journal reports parents of students in the pre-kindergarten program at West Hoke Elementary School in Raeford, N.C., received a letter from an assistant superintendent last week saying a substitute teacher would take over the preschool class until the “issue” is resolved.
The Feb. 28 letter from Bob Barnes reads:
“As I am sure you are aware, we recently experienced an unfortunate situation where a failure to follow district policy resulted in the substitution of a Pre-K student’s lunch at West Hoke Elementary School. This letter is to inform you that Ms. Emma Thomas will be a substitute in [your child's] classroom until we can bring resolution to this issue. We are pleased that [your child] is enrolled in our Pre-K program and we are confident that Ms. Thomas will continue to provide [him or her] with a very positive educational experience.”
The Journal originally reported an inspector decided that a 4-year-old girl’s lunch – consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, apple juice and potato chips – “did not meet USDA guidelines.”
The child was then provided with a full cafeteria tray, from which she reportedly ate three chicken nuggets.
Radio host Rush Limbaugh commented on the case today, noting “What’s the message there? ‘Your mommy doesn’t really know what’s best for you. We here at the school do.’ I don’t want you to doubt me on this. There’s not a war on women. There’s a war on freedom. And anything that the government does not have its hands in is the focus and the target for this regime, and now it’s food and the distribution of food.”
He continued: “It will only be a panacea and a utopia when the government controls everything yet. ‘Food Justice Now!’ You will soon be hearing this demand. You watch. Mark my words. I don’t know when, but it won’t take long.”
The girl’s mother now says the teacher is not to blame and shouldn’t be punished, according to the Journal.
“We are concerned for Ms. Maynor [the teacher] and want her back in the classroom, as she was only following guidelines,” the mother wrote in an email to her state representative, Republican G.L. Pridgen of Robeson County. “It’s the government that needs to be reprimanded and changed. Teachers should not be put in a situation to overrule the parent’s lunch of choice.”
Today’s report in the Journal quotes Lori Walston, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, who said giving the girl a full cafeteria tray, which included chicken nuggets and milk, was not a violation of state policy.
“The rules require that the provider at least ensure the missing items are offered,” Walston wrote in an earlier email exchange with the Journal. “It would not be a violation for a child to be provided more than what was needed. It is the provider’s choice as to their specific process.”
The paper says it remains unclear why giving the girl the cafeteria tray violated “district policy.”
“[DHHS] can’t offer comparison between our policy and [that of] any district or childcare center or family childcare home, as we would not have the staffing to compare policies of all programs in the state,” Walston told the Journal yesterday.
It was Feb. 23 when Cecelia Ellerbe, a child-care consultant who works for the DHHS, noticed a violation of the state’s nutrition policy at West Hoke Elementary Jan. 26. Walston told the Journal that Ellerbe “observed the lunch routine” at the preschool, which “would typically include walking through the cafeteria area. She could have seen any items that had been placed on tables, but might not have seen all lunches,” Walston said.
The school’s principal, Jackie Samuels, sent a letter home with students the next day, informing parents that homemade lunches lacking any of the items required under state regulations and U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines – fluid milk, two servings of fruit or vegetables, a serving of grain or bread, and a serving of meat or meat alternative – would have the missing items supplemented by school staff.
Joe Renfro, an education columnist for the Christian Observer, wrote about the Hoke situation over the weekend, noting:
“We increasingly see how the federal government seeks to dictate the mandates in every corner of the educational domain; not just in eating patterns and diets of our children, but the diet of learning in the schools. The menu that is being set up for the lunchrooms parallels the whole educational situation, since educational programs are increasingly being set up that don’t fit the diet of all the students. All students don’t fit into the same box. But Big Brother, Uncle Sam, knows what is best, it seems, although our educational achievement as an industrialized nation has plummeted.”