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Can Schools Regulate What Kids Bring for Lunch?

As a kid, finding Oreos in my school lunch always made my day. These days, however, packing Oreos into your child's lunch might get you a stern reprimand from the school.

That's what happened to an Aurora, Colorado mom who says teachers confiscated her daughter's Oreos, and sent her home with a note, saying, "This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable and a heavy snack from home, along with a milk." While mandating a "heavy snack" seems to run counter to healthy eating, are school officials really allowed to regulate what parents give their kids for lunch?

The Peanut Butter Solution

Schools can regulate some items based on the student safety concerns. In response to severe allergic reactions, many schools have limited where students can eat peanut butter, while others have banned it altogether. These extreme measures have outraged some parents who don't understand why one child's near-death experience should interfere with their own child's favorite sandwich.

For the most part, schools are permitted significant latitude when instituting student safety policies, and no court has overturned a peanut butter ban yet.

Health Nuts

Sending Oreos home, on the other hand, seems a bit extreme. The issue of childhood obesity, especially as it relates to school lunches, has resulted in numerous school lunch laws. For instance, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 allows the USDA to set nutritional guidelines and standards for school lunches and monitor school cafeterias to make sure the nutritional standards are met.

Most school lunch laws apply to what's served out of the cafeteria, but a few schools have gone after kids' lunchboxes: a school in Chicago even banned all lunches brought from home. Most of these rules fall under a school's power to regulate student conduct and discipline.

These bans and restrictions may seem excessive, especially to parents who feel they're sending their kids to school with a healthy meal. Leeza Pearson, the mom who gave her daughter Oreos, says the lunch also included a sandwich and string cheese. While Pearson sounds great, and can pack our lunch any day of the week, the school, Children's Academy, probably has the right to limit what foods kids can bring to school.

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