TAMPA — At MacFarlane Park Elementary School, children are encouraged to reason, challenge, use their powers of inquiry.
The same goes for parents, said principal Denyse Riveiro, which is why she is not surprised about an outcry over the end of meals from the Evos restaurant chain.
"We have wonderful parents," she said. "They are very active and highly involved. … What they are doing is what we ask of the children."
In this West Tampa magnet school for international studies, population 374, the PTA runs programs for health and wellness.
Last year that job fell to Tristan Schofer, a mother of three who grew up on after-school trips to McDonald's. Wanting to do better with her own brood, she organized a fundraiser with Evos, a chain that serves health-conscious food with organic ingredients, and sometimes delivers to private schools.
The MacFarlane PTA was able to arrange deliveries two days a week. Parents would order online, and volunteers would receive the meals at the school and distribute them to some 40 children.
"It was popular. Parents loved it," Riveiro said. And the PTA raised close to $500.
This year, the PTA sampled a different vendor but then tried to return to Evos, said Schofer, now the PTA's president.
But they were stopped by a directive from downtown.
School officials said parents could pack lunch for their children, bring food from outside to share with their children, or let their kids eat cafeteria food. But they can't have it delivered.
There were several reasons, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe: Sole-source provider agreements for cafeteria food do not allow competition from other vendors. And the district would have no way of monitoring nutritional content or sanitary conditions.
Then how can parents pack or take lunch to their kids?
"That's a parent delivering it directly to the child," Cobbe said.
Cobbe said that the school lunches are far healthier than they used to be, offering more vegetables and baking food instead of deep-frying it.
"I know the school system does what they can within their reach," Schofer agreed. "But it's just not enough."
Her son doesn't like the spaghetti, she said. And in a school with a large international community, she finds the vegetarian menu lacking.
Schofer has invited other parents to meet Thursday morning to discuss the problem.
Riveiro, the principal, will not be there. She's impressed by the parents' dedication to nutrition, given the nation's obesity crisis. In some classes, she said, families have agreed to forgo sweets, even birthday cupcakes.
But she can't go against the directive. "The district needs to do what they need to do to feed 195,000 children," she said.
The parents understand her position.
Said Schofer, "She's awesome. She will do anything for us. But her hands are tied."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.