Raeford, N.C. — Controversy over what a Hoke County preschooler ate for lunch last month has captured national media attention, but the school system said Wednesday that it never took the girl's homemade lunch away or forced her to eat cafeteria food.
The 4-year-old girl was sent off to school with a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips, her family said, but what she wound up eating was chicken nuggets from the school cafeteria.
The child's grandmother, who did not want to be identified, said the school pressured her to take the school lunch after deeming her packed lunch unhealthy.
"Her lunch was perfectly healthy," the grandmother said, adding that the girl was made to feel that her lunch wasn't good enough.
Confusion over a state assessment of a government-funded pre-kindergarten program caused the child to believe she had to go through the cafeteria line and get the chicken nuggets lunch provided by the school, said Bob Barnes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Hoke County.
The assessment requires the school to review children's lunches for nutrition, Barnes said. If a homemade lunch is determined to be missing one of the food groups required by United States Department of Agriculture regulations, the school is supposed to offer it to the student for free.
"What is supposed to happen is the teacher is supposed to go over and get the missing item, which I'm assuming was milk in this case, and offer it to the child," Barnes said. "The child can take it or not take it."
But the girl wound up getting put in the lunch line to get a full lunch, Barnes said.
"I don't know whether the child was confused. I don't know whether the teacher gave poor direction. I don't know, but again, that child thought she had to go through the line," he said. "If there's a mistake, that's our mistake."
Still, the grandmother said the school overstepped its authority.
"I want you stay out of my lunchboxes, government," she said. "You cannot stick your nose in that."
The family was not charged for the cafeteria meal, Barnes said.
The state Division of Child Development and Early Education said Tuesday it was investigating the incident.