I first heard of the concern among rural schools in Montana from one of our radio affiliates. They heard of the concern from the local lunch lady, angry over new federal mandates from Washington, DC that she feels is harming the school lunch program.
Then I spoke with Dave Puyear, Executive Director of The Montana Rural Education Association. “Aaron, this is huge,” Puyear told me. “Think of it like ‘No Child Left Behind,’ for food.”
On Friday, two rural school superintendents joined me as our guests on “Voices of Montana.” What’s the beef (or lack thereof)? New federal mandates under President Obama’s “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” being implemented this year which place limits on the amount of protein and calories students can eat on a daily basis.
Tharp also happens to be the President of The Montana Rural Education Association. Less than 2 weeks ago, he attended the state superintendents meeting. He says a majority of smaller Class B and Class C schools simply aren’t implementing the new guidelines- specifically the protein limitations, and the limits on the overall caloric intake. According to the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI), students are not allowed to have more than 10-12 ounces of protein per week.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” says Tharp. “We’re allowing these kids to come back for seconds. These big football players, the active volleyball players and cheerleaders, and the students who come from homes where they don’t always get a good breakfast or have a lot of good food waiting for them when they get home. We have a lot of kids in poverty across Montana. They get 10 good meals a week, and that’s what they get- breakfast and lunch at school, and now the federal government says we need to limit the amount of calories and the amount of protein that these growing children are getting and thats what doesn’t make sense.”
Tharp says most schools simply aren’t following the new mandates, and aren’t reporting it to the Office of Public Instruction, which supports the new mandates. “My board gave me their blessing. We might be drawing the ire of OPI or Department of Ed or USDA, or somebody coming down on us. But we’re going to take a stand ad say this is wrong, and if they want to come audit, inspect, or withhold funding, or whatever like that I guess we’ll have to deal with the ramifications if that happens.”
I also had the chance to speak with Dennis Gerke, Superintendent of Centerville Schools near Great Falls, during our show Friday. “It really puts us between a rock and a hard spot,” said Gerke, “because what we try to base our decisions on at our school is what is best for kids. So, is this something that is truly best for our kids? I really don’t think it is.” Gerke said he is going to talk to his board at their October meeting to find out what approach they will take in dealing with OPI. “In the meantime, we’re allowing our kids to have seconds.”
While Gerke joined us on the show, we also got a call from Sammy in the small Northeast Montana town of Brockton. Sammy chairs the local school board and said, “We went on record here last month. We’re just going to let our kids eat. Tell Michelle Obama or OPI to come here and look at our kids and tell em they can’t eat…we’re on the Fort Peck Reservation here. I don’t care where you’re at, what city you are, there’s always some kid that’s gonna come to school hungry. You think they’re gonna learn? They’re sitting there hungry.”
In fact, earlier this month First Lady Michelle Obamatook to the web to welcome students back to school and tell students about the “exciting changes” waiting for them on their school lunch menus. (Click below to watch the video)
Meanwhile, student protests have spread to Wisconsin and other states.
The Great Falls Tribune also carried a story over the weekend featuring students in Cut Bank, Montana. As it turns out, Michelle Obama’s quest to crack down on childhood obesity through federal school lunch mandates is sending more students to the fast food industry.
As the GFT reports:
As he grabbed lunch before a road trip to Malta for a football game, junior Joey Kercher quickly ate two slices of pizza, grapes and milk. Then he left the school cafeteria for McDonald’s and his second lunch. School lunch “is not enough,” he said.
Lofty goals of improving youth eating habits and hard realities of hungry students are colliding in school cafeterias across the state. In Cut Bank, less than half as many students as last year at this time eat school lunch, from an average of 110 to 48.
Thursday, September 27, 2012 5:59 PM
Mr. Tharp said “They get 10 good meals a week, and that’s what they get- breakfast and lunch at school.” I objected when Denise Juneau made a similar statement at the DNC.
If parents are not feeding their children, that is nothing short of child abuse, and should be reported to authorities. Poverty is no excuse with the number of assistance and food stamp programs that are available!
Is the issue “parents don’t feed their kids”, or “parents expect the government to feed their kids”?