Education Law

Parents & Schools Wage Food Fights

With the possible exceptions of gym class and recess, lunch is the best part of the day for many students, whether they're in first grade or high school. It's a time to rejuvenate and socialize.

School lunches haven't been in the news since President Reagan declared ketchup to be a vegetable back in the 1980's. Today, some schools, and even the federal government, take lunchtime seriously, and they seem to be stepping on some parents' toes.

Battle of the Bulge

In case you haven't heard, we Americans are overweight. It's gotten so bad the federal government plans on requiring labels showing calorie counts on restaurant menus and vending machines.

Even more important than stemming the tide of overweight adults, however, is the battle against childhood obesity. This particular fight has spawned some peculiar reactions by schools and others. But in the end, it seems a fight with parents is inevitable.

New Menu

Late in 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) became the law of the land. It does three major things:

  • Sets nutrition guidelines and standards for lunches served in most schools
  • Increases access to free or reduced-cost lunches for students from low-income families
  • Monitors school cafeterias to make sure the nutritional standards are followed

Clearly, the law is designed to make sure as many students as possible get lunches at school and don't gain too much weight from eating them. Those are noble goals. Critics argue, however, the law has shortcomings, such as an inevitable increase in price for parents who don't qualify for the free or reduced-cost lunch programs.

Take It or Leave It

In one Chicago-area school, brownbag lunches are banned. In the name of nutrition, students are required to buy their lunches from the cafeteria. Only students with food allergies or with special dietary needs may bring their lunches from home.

As you might guess, not every parent likes the new rule, as some argue:

  • They can pack a healthy lunch for less than the $2.25 price tag on a cafeteria lunch
  • The rule interferes with their constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit
  • The school and the school district get federal aid based on the number of lunches served in the cafeteria

We're Watching

Researchers are using grant money from the federal government to monitor cafeteria food and garbage in five Texas schools. The program uses cameras and scanners to record what foods students are served and how much of it is thrown away. The idea is to get information on calorie intake to help the school, and parents, make healthier meals.

The researchers stress that the students aren't photographed and their parents have to consent to letting their children participate.

Food for Thought

Where do you stand on the issues of childhood obesity and school lunches? Is it the schools' job or the parents' to set the menu? Make your voice heard and take action:

  • Go to PTA or PTO and school board meetings and let them know your opinion
  • Contact your state lawmakers and ask them how they plan to put the HHFKA into action, as well as any other planned action on school lunches
  • Tell your Representatives and Senators your opinions if you want your tax dollars to fund school lunches in general and research like that going on Texas
  • Make sure your child eats balanced, nutritious meals. Ask about free or reduced-cost lunches
  • Volunteer to work in the school cafeteria to see first hand what students eat at your child's school and how the food is prepared

In the end, the children are the primary concern. And, everyone can agree that obesity and nutrition need to be addressed. How they're addressed and by whom is where there may be disagreement. It takes parents, schools and governments working together and respecting each others' rights and goals.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I transfer my child to another public school if I don't like the current school's lunch policies?
  • What can happen if parents aren't truthful about their income so they can qualify for free lunches for their children?
  • Should I let my child participate in a program like the one in Texas?
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