Breakfast in the classroom debuts to controversy at Valley LAUSD school
Controversy continues to be served up alongside breakfast in classrooms as Los Angeles Unified rolls out morning meals to students at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies.
The campus was one of the last remaining of more than 630 LAUSD schools to begin rolling carts full of breakfast trays to classrooms and serving morning meals to students at their desks.
But Dina Lipton, a mother of two students at the school, said the federally funded effort is less effective than its predecessor.
Few kids ate the breakfasts last week, as dozens of trays were thrown away or sent back untouched in a single classroom, she said. All of the school's roughly 2,100 students receive the meals, unless their parents submit a form prohibiting it.
"I know in our class there's six kids taking it out of 40, and one kid just wants the apple, so they throw away everything else," Lipton said.
The previous program, which opened the school's cafeteria before first bell and again for a mid-morning snack, let students decide if they wanted to eat, Lipton said. It also didn't create a mess inside classrooms.
But Laura Benavidez, co-director of LAUSD's food services, said that only 29 percent of eligible children were eating breakfast across LAUSD, because previous efforts weren't practical.
Students couldn't get to school early enough to eat inside cafeterias before the school day started. At elementary schools, Benavidez said, mid-morning snacks were served during recess.
"The children generally liked to play more than come to eat," Benavidez said.
Breakfast in the classroom, she said, increased participation by placing meals in front of every student. The 3-year-old LAUSD program reaches nearly three times as many kids, with more than 340,000 being offered meals every morning, Benavidez said.
In an effort to reduce waste, Benavidez said food service managers record how many students eat certain meals and adjust future servings accordingly. About 20 percent of trays, Benavidez said, are returned untouched.
Every student at schools in the program automatically receives the free meals, regardless of parental income, as a means of protecting low-income students from being ostracized by their peers or feeling embarrassed.
LAUSD collects federal dollars for serving the food. The national movement was started to help hungry kids and better prepare them to learn.
More than 80 percent of LAUSD's students live in poverty, causing them to qualify for free or reduced price meals. Campuses with higher poverty rates have always had more participation for their breakfast programs than those with better-off peers, Benavidez said.
But far less than the districtwide rate, just 53 percent of students qualify for free and reduced priced meals at the Sherman Oaks campus.
At best, 300 students would eat breakfast before school and during recesses when it was served inside the school's cafeteria, Benavidez said. Now more than 1,000 students receive meals inside classrooms each day, she said.
Unlike most LAUSD schools, where food service managers are tasked with gauging how many meals are sent out, opposition to the program at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched studies caused district officials to let parents file a form, refusing the meals.
Benavidez said only 15 forms have been received and one was recently rescinded after a parent said her daughter saw the meals and reconsidered.
The program has been opposed by the teachers union, which urged the district to let local campuses choose to opt out. LAUSD does not allow that option, and most campuses districtwide participate.
Teachers say janitorial staff has been cut to skeleton crews, permitting rooms to be swept as little as once a week and floors mopped just several times per year.
Lipton said Sherman Oaks has one janitor and one assistant to clean up after 2,100 students in grades 4 through 12.
Benavidez said the district has put procedures in place to respond to problems and work with janitors and campus-based staff to address them.
But board member-elect Scott Schmerelson, who won LAUSD's District 3 seat representing the western San Fernando Valley in last week's election, said he has a different idea.
A so-called "bag and go" program, he said, should be expanded to every middle and high school campus to replace breakfast in the classroom.
Providing students with the option of picking up a bagged breakfast on their way to class, Schmerelson said, would cut down on a tremendous amount of waste and keep classrooms clean.
Whether it's lunch or breakfast, he said, students will often grab a single item such as baked French fries and throw away the rest of the tray they are required to accept because of nutrition rules.
"The parents are the ones that should be encouraging their kids to eat healthy at home, it shouldn't have to be the food police at school," Schmerelson said.
The "bag and go" program is available at 38 of LAUSD's 82 high schools. Those campuses, Benavidez said, tend to have more difficulty cleaning up, because students litter breakfast leftovers across campus.
Also, less breakfast is served when students have the option of picking up the food on their way to homeroom.
"I would definitely say the disadvantage is we're not able to get the high participation rate we want," Benavidez said.