By a unanimous vote, the Senate has approved a measure that exempts preschoolers' lunches from nutritional standards if the lunch is brought from home, and bans preschools from providing food or drink if parents are supplying food and have opted out of the school's program.
"We have a famous incident," said sponsor Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, referring to a February story about a Hoke County preschooler who was given a school lunch after a teacher deemed her lunch nutritionally incomplete.
The teacher admitted a mistake, but was later forced to resign after a media firestorm. Angry parents and conservative bloggers decried the "lunch police" as an unwarranted intrusion into parental rights.
"The lunch police who ought to have been in the classroom supervising," Tillman said, "were looking into lunch bags instead."
"That little girl had a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, some fruit. They sent her over to get chicken nuggets instead," he said. "Do you really want the lunch police telling you what you can send for lunch with your child?"
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said she supported the bill, but took issue with Tillman's characterization of the incident.
"I understand that incident which was very bad – the teacher sent the child over to get milk, and they misunderstood and put food on her tray," she said. “I think the facts need to be stated as they actually happened."
“The teacher was reprimanded,” Kinnaird added. “This was a media event.”
Tillman disagreed with Kinnaird’s account. “If that was entirely true, they shouldn’t have sent a bill home for a dollar and a quarter. Milk don’t cost a dollar and a quarter. Maybe that was another mistake,” Tillman said.
Hoke County assistant superintendent Bob Barnes told WRAL shortly after the incident that the family was not charged for the meal.
The measure now moves to the House for a concurrence vote.