By Vicki Smith
A school district forced to apologize for serving children cold cheese sandwiches for lunch had planned to include meat and several side dishes, but the state Department of Education’s chief nutritional officer said Tuesday even that meal would have been less than ideal.
“This is the first time in my tenure that I’ve seen bologna on a menu,” said Richard Goff, executive director of the Office of Child Nutrition.
Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Joe Super has publicly and privately apologized for the decision to serve the sandwiches at Philip Barbour High School and Philippi Middle and Elementary schools last week.
Super said students who got the sandwiches will receive credit if they paid for their lunches, but he declined to explain Tuesday 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.”
Super said he’s heard from about seven to 10 parents, all of whom indicated they accepted his apology and promise.
Meanwhile, state education officials say they’ll work with Barbour to ensure healthier options going forward.
Lawmakers, parents and educators have been pushing to get West Virginia schools serving children healthier meals, which are particularly important in low-income counties. Poor children often don’t get breakfast at home and might not eat again until the next school day.
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.
But Goff said the goal is a work in progress. Some districts excel while others may require assistance.
Goff also worked with legislators to craft the recently passed West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act, designed to ensure that no child is denied a meal because of cost.
That bill, which Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to sign this week, 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. Districts could then give free meals to every elementary school student or use the money to improve food quality by embracing farm-to-school programs or community gardening projects.
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. Goff said the meals must represent each food group in certain quantities.
The meal Barbour schools had planned to serve May 2 would have qualified, Goff said. The menu promised a bologna and cheese sandwich, baked beans, a garden salad, fruit and milk.
“Is it 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 said he doesn’t know how or why children ended up with a nutritionally deficient meal, but he credited Super for acknowledging the problem.
“People make mistakes,” he said. “I think the important thing is it’s gotten his attention, and he’s dedicated to resolving it and fixing the problem.”
Goff said the two discussed the entire April menu, and the state is reviewing the one for May.