Lawmakers May Move to Require the Exception
(RALEIGH) – School lunch inspections, such as the one at West Hoke Elementary School that garnered national attention, could be avoided in the future if the NC Child Care Commission doesn’t ignore a recommendation from the General Assembly and its own attorney.
The NC Child Care Commission is a group of fifteen members appointed by the Governor and state legislators, and is tasked with adopting rules to implement state laws regarding child care.
In July of 2010 the legislature passed a bill (H1726) affecting nutrition standards for child care facilities, which would include NC Pre-K programs. The law, signed by Gov. Bev Perdue, required the commission to consider “creating an exception from the rules to allow a parent or guardian, or to allow the center upon the request of a parent or guardian, to provide to a child food and beverages that may not meet the nutrition standards.”
The staff of the Division of Child Development and Early Education drew up some nutrition rules in May 2011 for the NC Child Care Commission to consider. The commission discussed the proposed rules at a September 27, 2011 meeting. The minutes of that meeting show the commission members talked about allowing parents to make a “personal preference” for the food their children eat at school, including what they bring from home. According to the minutes, the commission’s attorney, Alexi Gruber from the Department of Justice, advised the members such preferences should supersede any nutrition rule.
The panel went against that advice, however, and deleted the word “personal” from the recommendation. The only exception left was for ethnic, religious or cultural reasons. The new rule cited a vegetarian diet as an example of the exception.
Had that “personal preference” exception been in effect and followed on January 30, children in the NC pre-K class at West Hoke Elementary wouldn’t have had their lunch boxes inspected, and subsequently forced to add items from the school lunch menu to supplement their homemade lunches.
Now parents and advocates have a chance to challenge the commission’s decision. At a public hearing 1:30 p.m. on February 28 at the State Library located at 109 East Jones Street in Raleigh, the NC Child Care Commission will hear comments about the child care nutritional standard rules.
After the public hearing the Child Care Commission will review the public comments and either approve the proposed rules or change them.
Then it would be up to the state Rules Review Commission, which is part of the Office of Administrative Hearings, to make the final approval of the rules. Its next meeting is March 15, but it probably won’t consider the Child Care Commission proposals until May at the earliest
Once the Rules Review Commission makes its decision, citizens have 24 hours to file objections to the rules. If at least 10 people sign petitions of objection, the matter goes to the legislature for a hearing.
But legislators are already talking about taking the matter into their own hands. There is talk among members of the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee about drafting a bill to build a “personal preference” exception for parents into state law and bypass the Child Care Commission.
NOTE: In anticipation of a large crowd, the Child Care Commission changed the location of the Feb 28 meeting. This version of the article reflects the new meeting location.