NC Parents Come Out the Winners on School Lunches | Eastern North Carolina Now

After a national outcry over lunch inspections at a pre-K program in Hoke County, the North Carolina Childcare Commission got the message.

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   Publisher's note: This post, by Matt Willoughby, was originally published in the in Education section of Civitas's online edition.

    (RALEIGH)     After a national outcry over lunch inspections at a pre-K program in Hoke County, the North Carolina Childcare Commission got the message. The commission reinstated a rule allowing homemade lunches to be exempt from nutrition guidelines. The Childcare Commission had previously considered making "parental preference" an exemption to nutrition standards at previous meetings but decided to omit it. Parents would be able to tell the schools not to supplement their children's homemade lunch with school food. Without the exemption, pre-K programs would still need to inspect homemade lunches to ensure all lunches meet the nutrition guidelines. The new rule would allow exemptions for "familial, cultural and ethnic preferences." At a meeting June 21, the Rules Review Commission is expected to give final approval to the change. The rule would become effective July 1.

    The new rule means if parents pack a lunch for their child, the preferences of the parents would trump the established nutrition guidelines.

    The change can be credited to a story that triggered national attention.

    Articles by the Civitas Institute and Carolina Journal revealed homemade lunches at West Hoke Elementary School were being inspected and supplemented with cafeteria items. One girl was given chicken nuggets to go with her turkey sandwich. The pre-K program also received a lower assessment score because the homemade lunches didn't meet national nutrition standards. The national outrage that followed apparently convinced the Childcare Commission to reverse course and give parents final say on what their children eat at school. The girl's teacher also lost her job after being brought to tears by Hoke County school officials.

    A physician and advocate for parents' rights, Scott Sweeney, was prepared to file objections if the Childcare Commission did not reinstate the parental preference. That would have forced the issue into a hearing at the legislature. "With that and what is going on in the legislature I think we can call it a win," says Sweeney. "I will continue to follow it though."

    The commission also decided it would not impose the national standards on private Family Care Homes as it intended. However, a new rule is expected to be adopted which would require a prescription from a healthcare provider before infants could be given juice.

    New legislation in the General Assembly also would give parents more control over what their children eat at pre-K and child care programs. It would at the same time go further than the Childcare Commission rules and prohibit using what children are eating as a factor in school assessments, whether it be homemade lunches or provided by the child care facility. The new language is in HB503, which restricts the sale of sweetened beverages in schools. The bill is being discussed in the House Committee on Education and Higher Education. As of May 25, however, the online version of the bill did not contain the new language.

    Update: The House Education and Higher Education Committee passed HB503. The bill now only has language addressing "parental preference" for lunches and eliminating lunches as a factor in school assessments.

    Update: The Senate approved HB503 on Thursday, May 31,2012.
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