A mother in Hoke County complains her daughter was forced to eat a school lunch because a government inspector determined her home-made lunch did not meet nutrition requirements. In fact, all of the students in the NC Pre-K program classroom at West Hoke Elementary School in Raeford had to accept a school lunch in addition to their lunches brought from home.
NC Pre-K (before this year known as More at Four) is a state-funded education program designed to "enhance school readiness" for four year-olds.
The mother, who doesn't wish to be identified at this time, says she made her daughter a lunch that contained a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips. A state inspector assessing the pre-K program at the school said the girl also needed a vegetable, so the inspector ordered a full school lunch tray for her. While the four-year-old was still allowed to eat her home lunch, the girl was forced to take a helping of chicken nuggets, milk, a fruit and a vegetable to supplement her sack lunch.
The mother says the girl was so intimidated by the inspection process that she was too scared to eat all of her homemade lunch. The girl ate only the chicken nuggets provided to her by the school, so she still didn't eat a vegetable.
The mother says her daughter doesn't like vegetables and – like most four year olds – will only eat them at home under close supervision.
In an interview with the Civitas Institute the mother said "I can't put vegetables in her lunchbox. I'm not a millionaire and I'm not going to put something in there that my daughter doesn't eat and I've done gone round and round with the teacher about that and I've told her that. I put fruit in there every day because she is a fruit eater. Vegetables, let me take care of my business at home and at night and that's when I see she's eating vegetables. I either have to smash it or tell her if you don't eat your vegetables you're going to go to bed."
The mother added, "It's just a headache to keep arguing and fighting. I've even wrote a note to her teachers and said do not give my daughter anything else unless it comes out of her lunchbox and they are still going against me and putting a milk in front of her every day.
"Friday she came home and said 'Mom, they give me vegetable soup and a milk,'" said the mother.
"So I went to the cafeteria to make sure she had no fee and it's not being charged to her account yet," she continued, " but what concerned me was that I got a letter from the principal and it says students who do not bring a healthy lunch will be offered the missing portions which may result in a fee from the cafeteria. So if I don't stay on top of her account on a weekly basis there's that opportunity that charges could be put on her account and then if I let it go too far then it's like I'm going to have a big battle."
The principal of West Hoke Elementary, Jackie Samuels, says none of the children's parents were asked to pay for the school food. While the parents may not have to pay, it was still an expense for the school to provide the extra food. A phone call to the Hoke County Schools Superintendent to inquire as to how much additional expense this would impose on the school was not returned.
The mother, who lives in Fayetteville, sent a statement to state Rep. G.L. Pridgen (R-Robeson) detailing her complaint. Pridgen says he was shocked to hear it. Pridgen has since learned this is a nationwide practice based on federal guidelines.
An assistant to Pridgen says the girl's grandmother was also upset and asked, "This isn't China, is it?"
The government inspector was from the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised program at the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program gives schools a grade based on standards that include USDA meal guidelines enforced by the N.C. Division of Early Childhood Development.
The nutrition standards for pre-K lunch require milk, two servings of fruit or vegetable, bread or grains and a meat or meat alternative. The school didn't receive a high grade from the January assessment because the home-made lunches didn't meet those guidelines. The mother points out the only thing on that list her daughter's home lunch didn't have was milk, so she doesn't understand why the girl was given a complete school meal as a supplement.
The mother says her next step is to sit down with the principal and if nothing is done then she plans to go to the school board.