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Teacher Punished for Offering Students Healthy Food

English teacher Mendy Heaps had never given much thought to the food her seventh-grade students were eating. Then her husband, an habitual junk food eater, was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Suddenly the french fries, pizza, and ice cream being served in the cafeteria at her school began to affect her. Heaps decided to take action.

She began to teach nutrition in her language arts classes. Over and over, she sent emails of articles and news clippings to her colleagues, administrators, and the local school board, urging them to overhaul the school menu. She began selling fresh fruits and healthy snacks to the students on her own, wheeling healthier foods from classroom to classroom on a makeshift fruit cart, doling out apples for a quarter each.

Finally, the principal decided to take action. Under threat of being fired, Heaps says she was forced to sign a personnel memorandum agreeing to “cease and desist” offering the healthier foods at rural Elizabeth Middle School outside Denver, Colorado. She was ordered to undergo a kind of “cafeteria re-education program,” wherein she was told to meet with the school’s food services director, spend part of each day on lunch duty recording what foods the students ate, and compile data showing the potential economic impact of removing from the menu the “grab-and-go” foods Heaps found so objectionable.

In the wake of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I find this idea to be repulsive. I understand, maybe more than many, that schools are under the gun financially. The cafeteria’s primary job is to serve food, and the secondary job is to be profitable. There are tight guidelines from the USDA with regards to what must be served. There are also guidelines that say that foods cannot be offered that compete against the food services program.

In that case, reform the foods served. Then this type of action won’t be necessary.

April 15th, 2010