That story about government agents forcing a kid to eat chicken nuggets instead of the lunch her mom packed for her? Yeah, that’s bogus

Turns out the chicken nugget controversy is sound and fury.

Mark Thompson uncovers the truth behind the story about the little girl “forced” by “state agents” to eat chicken nuggets instead of her packed lunch:

One problem: the story is a load of bunk at worst, a non-story at best, standing for little more than the proposition that low-income children in NC’s low-income pre-K program whose parents don’t send them to school with enough healthy food will be provided with additional food to supplement what their parents send them to school with.

For starters, the context in which all of this occurred was a public school pre-K program run by the state popularly known as “More at Four,” but now called the generic name “NC Pre-K.”  In order to have a child enrolled in this program, which has a limited number of slots, the parents must actively choose to enroll, with priority going to “at-risk” children, to wit: special needs children and (importantly) low-income children.  Indeed, to even be eligible for the program, the child must either fit in one of those two categories or have a parent on (or about to be called on) active military duty.  Enrollment as an “at-risk” child means that the child’s enrollment is fully subsidized by the state, regardless of whether the day care is private or public.

These facts are critical because the “state agent” in this story turns out to be nothing more than a researcher from a program that grades the performance of pre-schools and operates out of the FPG Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It also does not appear that this institute has any actual authority other than to provide assessments, which the state then uses in making licensing decisions and in setting the fees it will pay the day care provider for subsidized care.

Notably, as the second-linked story above suggests, the mother’s main gripe here does not even appear to be with this “state agent,” but instead with the school’s teachers, who continue to give the girl milk and vegetables despite letters from the mother asking them not to.  Indeed, the notion that this “state agent” was going around inspecting every single lunch box brought to the school does not appear to have much basis, as the agent apparently ordered full school lunches for every single child in this program and was evaluating the school’s compliance with standards, not individual parents’ compliance.  Even if he was doing such an inspection, there’s a pretty obvious context-specific reason for it: this is an opt-in program for parents who largely can’t afford to provide fully balanced meals.

Her other major gripe appears to be that she is worried about being charged for the additional food being placed in front of her daughter based on a letter from the school purportedly saying that kids who did not bring a healthy lunch would be offered supplements and that parents “may” be charged for the supplemented portions.  However, as the second-linked story makes clear, no such charges have been issued nor apparently was there any actual chance that such charges would be issued.

The original story’s claim that the relevant regulation applies to all pre-schools is also false – to the contrary, it applies only  to pre-schools choosing to participate in (and eligible for) the subsidized program.

The original story further obscures that in no circumstance was this child – or any child, for that matter – being forced to eat the school-provided lunch, nor was this child -or any other child – deprived of her boxed lunch.  Instead, as the second linked story acknowledges, the child was just provided with additional food and given the option to consume that in addition to her boxed lunch.  In other words, the claim that the school “replaced” this girl’s turkey sandwich, banana, apple, potato chips, and juice with chicken nuggets is totally bogus.

So before we all go crazy talking about how awful the nanny state is to make this poor little girl eat chicken nuggets instead of her sack lunch, let’s all take a deep breath and, I dunno, spend some time researching the facts. I love a good knee-jerk reaction as much as the next guy, but when something sounds too awful to be true, chances are it is. With the very real problems in, say, our criminal justice system – no-knock raids, innocent people on death row, overfilled prisons, and so on and so forth, spending any time at all on this non-troversy is a waste of precious digital ink.

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