Mystery of the cheese sandwich

It’s hard to get away with anything – or sweep something under the rug – in our modern society.

Not that people don’t try. For example, look at the “Great Cheese Sandwich Mystery” in Barbour County.

On May 2, Barbour students eating “hot” lunch were served cold slices of cheese on a white hamburger bun.

This being the digital age, many students used their cellphones to take photos of the cheese sandwiches alone on their lunch trays, sending the pictures to their parents and posting them on social media sites.

The skimpy meal quickly become a hot local topic on Facebook, with angry parents asking why a proper meal wasn’t served, demanding to know who was to blame.

Barbour County school officials haven’t been answering those questions, however. In fact, they’ve merely put forth a futile effort to make the story go away.

Asked by The Inter-Mountain Tuesday why the meal consisted of just a cheese sandwich, Barbour County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super would only say,”It is an unfortunate situation, but we cannot go back in time. There will be no more sandwiches of this variety served to our students. That has been made clear to everybody.”

Questioned by an Associated Press reporter the same day, Super again declined to explain who made the decision about what to serve or why.

Although Super said it wasn’t possible to “go back in time,” someone in the county school system has been trying to do just that.

On May 3, the Barbour Schools lunch menu online showed that the May 2 lunch was scheduled to have been either hot dogs or pork chops, depending on the decision of the schools’ head cooks. On Tuesday, however, the online lunch menu had been changed, now stating that a “cheese sandwich” was the main entree for May 2.

Stonewalling reporters and backdating the online school menu won’t make the situation disappear, however. Those digital photos of an unappetizing sandwich alone on a lunch tray aren’t going away.

Something very weird must have happened within the school system to produce that bizarre excuse for a meal. Theories abound among parents: Was the meal an attempt to keep the county schools from overshooting federal nutritional guidelines for student meals? Or did the schools run out of food? Or maybe out of money?

The nutritional guidelines theory doesn’t seem to hold water: the schools served a full lunch meal the next day. Besides, a lunch of just bread and cheese doesn’t sound like much of a plan for providing good nutrition.

In fact, many Barbour County students got no nutritional value whatsoever from the May 2 meal. Facebook displayed cellphone photos showing lunchroom garbage cans filled with uneaten cheese sandwiches.

Does anyone really believe the school system ran out of food countywide – for just one day? Or was the May 2 lunch offering some kind of a statement about the county school system’s troubled finances?

Barbour School officials might protest that parents – and the media – are now engaging in speculation. It’s true. That’s what taxpayers do when public officials try to hide information.

Anyone looking at that lonely sandwich on the tray might naturally remember that the Barbour Board of Education, following Super’s recommendation, voted just months ago to do away with middle school sports. Only a tremendous fundraising effort by community volunteers saved the sports programs for Barbour middle schoolers.

Now we have an incident that makes parents wonder about the future of the county’s school lunch and breakfast services. Some have asked if Barbour residents will have to raise money to save these programs as well.

Luckily, the state has already stepped in and is looking at Barbour County schools.

Richard Goff, the state Department of Education’s chief nutritional officer, told The Associated Press he has spoken with Super about the May 2 lunch. Goff said the two had so far discussed the entire April menu, and the state is reviewing the one for May.

Goff said he saw a menu listing for the May 2 lunch that stated children should have been served a bologna and cheese sandwich, with baked beans, a garden salad and fruit.

He said even that meal would have been less than ideal nutritionally.

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

We hope the state keeps an eye on the food services program. We also hope Barbour school officials realize they can’t just sweep embarrassing messes under the rug. Not as long as kids have cellphones with cameras, anyway.