LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted unanimously today to continue the Breakfast in the Classroom program, which has faced some criticism for cutting into instruction time and causing some unsanitary conditions at schools.
"Every program ... has problems with its implementation," board member Steve Zimmer said. "That's what happens. It's not breaking news. Our obligation is to work out the problems. That's what we do."
Parent and union groups staged a series of rallies in support of the program in recent weeks, saying it provides meals for nearly 200,000 children with the idea that students are more attentive and perform better if they start the day with a nutritious breakfast.
Officials with the Service Employees International Union also said that canceling the program would threaten the jobs of about 900 cafeteria workers.
But serving food to students in classrooms has generated concerns from some teachers who complained about problems such as rotten food and an increase in bugs. They also noted that the program reduces instructional time.
Board members told LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy that efforts must be made to address those problems, because the program has proven successful. "Whatever these little things are, we've got to straighten them out," board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said.
She and board member Richard Vladovic told Deasy the district needs to find funds to extend the school day to make up for time lost while students are having breakfast.
Students "need to be fed and they need to have this opportunity in order to learn," Vladovic said. "... And to do that those youngsters need to have a nutritious meal."
Deasy said he is a strong supporter of the program, saying there was strong evidence that a healthy breakfast helps students perform better in the classroom.
"It is my belief children have a fundamental right to a healthy meal prior to beginning their instructional day," he said.
Deasy said the program also generates money for the district, including about $6 million this year that goes into the district's general fund.
Despite the concerns expressed by its members, United Teachers Los Angeles officials issued a statement earlier saying that while there are "serious problems" with the program, "these problems can and must be
overcome so students get a nutritional breakfast and a full instructional day. It is not an either/or for children."
"Of course children learn better when they start the day with a nutritious breakfast," UTLA President Warren Fletcher said. "And every child deserves a full instructional day. One without the other does not make sense."
Tanya Chambers, a cafeteria worker at Hoover Street Elementary School, described for the board her struggles to feed her children when she was out of work and her husband didn't earn enough to buy food.
"Anyone who thinks there is no hunger in our schools is completely out of touch with reality," she said, adding that she has seen that with the program, "children are concentrating more and doing good work."
"It's a lot of work for us in the cafeteria but it benefits our children, and that's what counts," Chambers said.