The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 9, 2013

Move past baloney and continue quest to ensure students get meals they need

It’s time to move past the baloney ... or bologna ... or lack of same at school lunch.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin went to Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Martinsburg on Wednesday to sign into law the Feed to Achieve Act, which provides free breakfast and lunch to all students around the state.

It came the same week Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Joe Super publicly and privately apologized after children in the county were served cold cheese sandwiches for lunch. The lunches were served at Philip Barbour High School and Philippi Middle and Elementary schools last week.

The menu for May 2 had promised a bologna and cheese sandwich, baked beans, a garden salad, fruit and milk.

Who knows? That’s a lunch many of the students may have enjoyed.

To qualify for reimbursement for meals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, county school districts must serve meals that meet certain federal standards for nutrition. Richard Goff, executive director of the West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition, said the meals must represent each food group in certain quantities.

“Is it (the promised meal for May 2) reimbursable under federal guidelines? Yes. Is it suitable for the department? No,” Goff said. “Does it meet our higher nutrition standards here at the state department and is it in line with the direction we’re going? The answer is no.”

Goff noted that “this is the first time in my tenure that I’ve seen bologna on a menu.”

Super, meanwhile, declined to explain who made the decision about what to serve or why.

“We’re very sorry that this happened. We have told people that it will not happen again,” he said. “It was an unfortunate situation. It should not have happened, but it did, and we’re going to move on from it.”

Moving on is the key, and state education officials say they’ll work with Barbour County to ensure healthier options going forward.

As The Associated Press reported, lawmakers, parents and educators have been pushing to get West Virginia schools serving children healthier meals.

Last fall, the state Department of Education said there would be big improvements under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. School meals are supposed to have more whole-grain foods, fruit, vegetables, fat-free and low-fat milk, and water. They’re also supposed to have less salt and fat, and fewer heat-and-serve, processed items.

Goff noted that progress is not even across the state. Some districts excel while others may require assistance.

Now the Feed to Achieve Act, designed to ensure that meals are available to all students at no cost, is the law in West Virginia. It requires all schools to try to maximize participation in school meal programs and to take greater advantage of federal funding for them. It recommends programs such as “grab and go” breakfasts and eating breakfast in class. It also sets up foundations in every county to collect private donations for the expanded programs.

It’s a noble undertaking.

In West Virginia, 53 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals, according to West Virginia Kids Count, but only 36 percent of students participated in the breakfast program last year. The discrepancy is due to the way the meals are delivered and the stigma surrounding free or reduced-price meals.

Feed to Achieve is designed to address that discrepancy, though there are sure to be challenges with funding ahead that must be answered as the program unfolds.

Hungry students, obviously, are not in the best condition to learn, and no one disputes that school meals are the most significant source of nutrition for a substantial percentage of children.

The Barbour County “no-baloney” situation, we trust, won’t slow West Virginia’s efforts in ensuring hunger is not a problem for its young people as they go through their crucial school years.

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