There's been a story going around this week, prompting parental outrage, of an elementary school in North Carolina that deemed a preschooler's bag lunch nutritionally unworthy and gave her chicken nuggets from the cafeteria instead. According to a Carolina Journal article, the state has a law requiring pre-K providers to ensure a nutritional lunch, and an overzealous inspector wrongly counted the little girl's turkey sandwich, chips, banana, and apple juice as insufficiently healthful. My fellow About.com Parenting guides had plenty to say about the idea of replacing a child's brought-from-home lunch; read their posts on the sites for Preschoolers, Pediatrics, Food Allergies, Gifted Children, and Grandparents.
There's certainly cause for concern among parents of children with special needs in the specter of schools substituting their lunches for ours, especially if you have a child with food allergies whose home-packed lunch has been carefully calibrated to not kill him or her. But I'll tell you, that's not what I thought about when I first saw this story. Instead, I thought: You can't get a teacher to look in a kid's folder to find the homework that was done but not turned in, but they're going to search the lunches? Do we send kids to school to eat or to learn? Why is lunch -- really just a convenience to get kids through a full school day -- such a major focus of attention and energy, while getting a decent behavior plan or differentiated learning is oh, too much trouble and expense! We couldn't possibly! Bah. If schools are going to start sticking their nose into things and ensuring a required daily amount, how 'bout one of these instead?
- Bookbags. Perhaps I would get fewer notes home about my son needing pencils if somebody examined his bookbag each day for supplies and found the couple dozen languishing in the pocket he never checks. Ditto gym clothes. Ditto, as previously mentioned, homework papers. And while you're at it, fill its belly full of all the things we'll need at home to do homework and help with studying. Like the correct assignments.
- Classrooms. Let's have a daily check to make sure that each classroom has its mandated serving of fully trained teachers and staff, equipment, and supplies. And, of course, a well-balanced assortment of students of all abilities and talents, so everybody gets a nourishing educational experience.
- IEPs. If only IEPs got as much respect as the food pyramid! Wouldn't you love a daily check to make sure that all the many well-planned elements of an IEP were actually being provided. Whoops, a speech therapist missing? Uh oh, the paraprofessional is helping out somewhere else? Shoot, accommodations are being skipped over? Let's just have the school swoop in and provide all these, just like so many tasty chicken nuggets.
- Brains. Nutrition's all well and good, but too often kids with special needs are getting the equivalent of Twinkies and Coke in the educational department. Let's examine what we're putting into their brains as zealously as we do what they put in their mouths, and hold just as high of a standard. (And maybe, I don't know, not given them candy as rewards?)
Share your thoughts on the Lunch Police in the comments, and your ideas about what you'd like to see receive that same sort of close scrutiny in the school day.
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