Rules Lead to Waste and More Changes are on the Way
(RAEFORD) – Hoke County Schools Assistant Superintendent Bob Barnes is telling the media the pre-K student who was forced to supplement her homemade lunch with chicken nuggets must have been confused when she went through the school lunch line. The girl’s father says his daughter never went through a line — the food tray was brought to her table.
This was done under the watchful eye of a mysterious state inspector. The school system told the mother West Hoke Elementary was going through an Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale assessment. Normally those inspections are carried out by someone with the North Carolina Rated License Assessment Project out of UNC-Greensboro under contract to the Division of Childhood Development and Early Education. The assessment is based on a comprehensive evaluation of the schools called the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-Revised. Nutrition is just one segment. Other measurements include teaching appreciation of diversity and health screenings. The same scale is utilized in Europe and Asia. It was determined the girl’s lunch didn’t pass muster with rules drawn up by bureaucratic panels. So a tray of “acceptable” food was placed in front of her. Despite the supplemental food, the school still lost points because other lunches from home didn’t measure up. But no state agency or contractor will own up to being responsible for the assessment or the lunch inspections.
The father says the first thing the girl said to her mother that day when she got home was, “Why didn’t you pack my lunch right?” The girl only ate the chicken nuggets and the rest was thrown out.
Thousands of pounds of good food is tossed in the garbage every day across the state and the nation. Schools have to follow the USDA meal guidelines in order to be reimbursed for the cost of the food. Kevin Campbell runs a pre-K program in Mecklenburg County. He is also a member of the North Carolina Licensed Child Care Association (NCLCCA). Campbell says every program has to report how much food is served to children and the school is reimbursed $1.50 for every meal even if the meal is thrown away. Campbell says he’s known programs to give a child a 50-cent apple, for example, and be reimbursed at the full price of a lunch.
There are even milk audits by the state Child and Adult Care Program. The Executive Director of the NCLCCA, Linda Piper, says state inspectors calculate how much milk each school must purchase for the number of children in the program. The inspectors then check receipts to make sure that amount of milk calculated was bought. Piper says a lot of that milk goes down the drain.
In fact, Campbell says his program pours up to 40 percent of the milk away each day. His staff can’t just place a new carton of milk in front of a child; they have to pour the milk into a glass, so if the child doesn’t drink it, it’s wasted.
There’s a good chance a lot more milk and good food will end up in the trash. On January 25 First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced even higher standards for breakfasts and lunches that schools will have to follow, including a wider variety of vegetables.
Campbell and Piper say the state bureaucrats have come up with a lot of rules that make it difficult to run pre-K programs. For example:
- There are 15 steps staff members have to follow while changing a child’s diapers, including using a sanitary wipe on the hands of both the teacher and the child before washing their hands.
- Classrooms cannot contain any books with villains, including those in Disney stories. Books showing sharks or lions baring their teeth are also prohibited.
- Teachers are timed so children don’t wait longer than three minutes for a meal, an activity, or the bathroom.
The pre-K programs have to follow the rules to receive an adequate rating from a third-party organization and remain eligible for funding. That gives the rule makers great authority over what children eat and learn.
More rule changes are on the way. The North Carolina Child Care Commission is the panel that approves the rules and is holding a public hearing on the new changes February 28.
Among the proposed rules, children will not be served flavored milk, Kool-Aid or even sweet tea. Staff wouldn’t be able to eat or drink anything the children were forbidden to touch.
Under the proposed changes, private child care homes would come under the same nutrition rules as school programs.
The location for the public hearing is the offices of the Division of Child Development and Early Education at 319 Chapanoke Road in Raleigh. The hearing begins at 1:30 in the afternoon.