Local News

Parents decry 'food police' in NC schools

Posted February 28, 2012 12:19 p.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2012 11:51 a.m. EST

— Members of a state panel tasked with setting rules for preschool programs in North Carolina heard an angry outcry from parents Tuesday over lunch guidelines.

The hearing of the state Child Care Commission comes two weeks after North Carolina made national headlines over the issue. A Hoke County teacher replaced some preschoolers' homemade lunches with a school lunch after deeming that the children's lunches didn't meet set nutritional guidelines.

School officials later acknowledged the teacher made a mistake, saying she was only supposed to provide the missing item – a carton of milk in this case – and not swap out the entire lunch.

"We do not need food police," Susan Robbins of Wendell told the state commission Tuesday. "When every employee of the government – state level and every level of government – is not obese, then they can examine children's lunches and determine whether or not they are healthy."

Some advocates said, however, that day care and pre-kindergarten programs need rules to ensure children in the programs are eating right.

"I've seen Cheetos and Coke being provided to young children, and I've seen soda and juice being provided in bottles to infants," said Richard Rairigh, director of programs and early child development at Be Active North Carolina, which promotes healthy lifestyles.

Commission Chairwoman Claire Tate said the rules, which require the preschool programs to provide food free of charge to children whose lunches don't meet guidelines, also help families who might not be able to afford proper meals for their children.

"We always attempt for the parent's preference, their religious guidelines, their ethnic preferences, cultural, certainly medical," Tate said. "There is always allowance for that."

Critics maintained that the rules don't value parental opinions, and they demanded that the rights of parents and children by clearly written in the rules.

"Are we as North Carolinians and Americans now to live under the assertion that a handful of people who, by bureaucratic fiat, can strip us of our rights and personal preference as parents as to what we will and will not give our children?" asked Dr. Scott Sweeney, a Charlotte family practice physician. "I say no. Nationally, people are saying no."

The 17-member commission didn't vote Tuesday on any changes to the state guidelines. Members said they would continue to accept public input until April 2, and they could vote in May on any updates.