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HONOLULU —When Carissa Lee O’Connell’s husband Rick began preparing organic home lunches for his wife four months ago, the goal was to improve her severe nasal allergies.
“Instantly the allergies went away, the colds disappeared and it’s all from just eating raw, natural organic food,” Rick O’Connell, 53, told KITV4.
But now Carissa Lee O’Connell, 24, is suffering from another health issue – trouble sleeping. She says her nightly tossing and turning is due to a mandate from KCAA Preschools of Hawaii, where she has worked as a teacher’s aide at the Hawaii Kai campus for the past year.
In April, Lee O’Connell was verbally warned by the preschool to stop eating home lunches in plain view of kids. But last week, the verbal warning was put to paper, stating that if O’Connell continued to defy school administrators, she would be summarily fired.
“Definitely upsetting because I really enjoy being with the kids, having fun and seeing them every day,” said Lee O’Connell. “They’re making me eat my lunch away from everybody else just because my director feels uncomfortable about the situation.”
KCAA president Christina Cox said O’Connell is allowed to eat homemade lunches during a paid break, or after kids go down for their nap, but the objective of lunch time is to provide a family-style setting where teachers and staff field questions about the food that’s being served.
In a warning letter issued to Lee O’Connell on Monday, KCAA’s Kuapa campus director Wendy Nishimura wrote the following: “Staff who choose not to eat the meals provided, may eat their own food during their break or after the meal service for the children is completed.”
Lee O’Connell counters that a 10-minute break isn’t always conducive to eating lunch, and she prefers the half-hour set aside by the school, which begins at 11:20 a.m.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” said Lee O’Connell, “but it’s not to say that it’s guaranteed that during my break time I’m not going to have a personal issue that comes up, and I have to take care of that first before I can be able to sit down to eat.”
Lee O’Connell’s husband believes his wife is being unfairly targeted by the preschool, and questions how an organization that receives tax dollars through the USDA Child Nutrition Program can get away with what he believes is a clear-cut case of discrimination.
“So in other words, her tax dollars can go into a program that (children) are being fed with, but she can be ostracized for eating a certain way to maintain her health,” said O’Connell. “She’s got a choice to either keep her job, or keep her health. That’s just a horrible choice for anybody to have to make.”
Lee O’Connell is scheduled to report to work Wednesday morning, but is prepared to be fired after sharing her story with KITV4.
“I definitely haven’t slept well and I can’t really focus on my work all the time because I’m always thinking about what my director might see, and how she’s going to use that against me,” said Lee O’Connell.
KCAA operates seven preschools on Oahu. It was established in 1895 as a Kindergarten and Children’s Aid Association, and operates as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.