Hoke County school board chews lunch controversy

Posted March 19, 2012 5:27 p.m. EDT
Updated March 23, 2012 2:40 p.m. EDT

— The Hoke County school board called a special meeting Monday to digest all of the circumstances surrounding a school lunch controversy that gained national attention and led to the resignation of a pre-kindergarten teacher.

Nick Sojka, attorney for the school system, said that Margaret Maynor, who taught for four years at West Hoke Elementary School, was being investigated for her role in replacing the homemade lunches of three students with food from the school cafeteria before resigning last month.

In one case, school officials said Maynor told a 4-year-old girl that the lunch her mother had packed for her – consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips – did not meet the nutritional guidelines set by the state for pre-K programs. The child wound up going through the cafeteria line and getting a full lunch of chicken nuggets provided by the school.

The school said Maynor made a mistake, and that she should have gone to the cafeteria and gotten the missing nutritional item – a carton of milk – for the girl.

Sojka said it wasn't clear whether Maynor instructed the girl to get a full school lunch or whether the child did so out of confusion, but he said the teacher was ultimately responsible.

"These are very young children. The procedure is that the food be brought to the child's place, rather than send the kids through the lunch line," Sojka said. "We don't typically see those children make those decisions on their own. (Maynor) was the classroom teacher."

While school leaders looked into the flap, Maynor was placed on leave, Sojka said, not because of the lunch situation, but because she did not fully cooperate with the investigation. 

"In the course of investigating this matter, there was inaccurate and contradictory information provided to administrators," he said.

Paperwork at Monday night's meeting included an interview transcript with the teacher in which she told school officials that she did not remember sending the student through the lunch line on Jan. 31. After several rounds of questions, she said she did remember sending the child through the line and said she was confused about the date in question and thought they were asking about Jan. 26.

After her resignation, parents spoke out in support of Maynor, saying the school system used her as a scapegoat to cover up intrusive policies of inspecting children's homemade lunches. The controversy even caught the attention of national news outlets and conservative bloggers, who accused the school of being "food police."

While Sojka acknowledged that pre-K teachers are supposed to supplement any missing nutritional item in a student's packed lunch with items from the cafeteria, he said the school does not inspect lunch boxes.

"Hoke County schools are not the lunch police," he said. "There is no requirement or mandate that lunches be searched."