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LAUSD could eliminate classroom breakfast program

A student talks with cafeteria worker Sophia Villareal as she picks up her breakfast at Brockton Elementary School.
A student talks with cafeteria worker Sophia Villareal as she picks up her breakfast at Brockton Elementary School.
Richard Hartog/California Watch

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LAUSD may eliminate a classroom breakfast program serving over 200,000 children. The program’s supporters argue that offering a nutritious breakfast at school is crucial for children who may not be eating at home, either because their parents can’t afford food for breakfast or because they leave for work too early in the morning to make sure something is on the table before school.

"Many kids have single parent families and the mom may be asleep because she had the night shift. They may be going to school with a sibling who goes to school at a different time. Any number of reasons that explain why they can't come in early enough to make use of the breakfast program before the first class," said William McCarthy, professor at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health. "I think every child should be assured to be well fed before the start of the first class of the day, otherwise they're not going to be taught."

The teachers union opposes the breakfast program, saying that it cuts too much time out of classroom instruction. In addition, the 10 minutes allotted to breakfast in the classroom has proven to be not enough time; 

"Setting up a 10 minute window in which to do 25 or 30 minutes worth of work is guaranteed to mean that something is going to lose out, either the nutritional side or the instructional side," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "It's being rolled out poorly, it's being rolled out in a way that assures bad sanitation issues. Board member Monica Garcia said there needs to be some middle ground."

The classroom breakfast program was launched last year to increase the number of children eating breakfast after it was discovered that only 29 percent of children eligible for free or discounted food were eating before school in the cafeteria. With new breakfast numbers up to 89 percent, schools are reporting fewer tardies, greater classroom focus, and higher attendance.

What’s the way out of this dispute? Is there a way to make before-school cafeteria breakfasts more popular and effective?

Warren Fletcher, President, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)

William McCarthy, Professor, UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health; McCarthy specializes in nutrition and has devoted most of his 30-year career to intervention studies designed to encourage members of special populations to adhere to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans