"So long as there are children who are coming to school hungry, there will be a need for school breakfast programs, and until workers are guaranteed a living wage, there will undoubtedly be hungry kids." — Dana Woldow
Ballyhooed as "historic" by Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) President Mónica García, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Broad Foundation backed InnerCity Struggle, Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) is a poorly thought out program with noble intentions, but plagued from start by insurmountable implementation issues.
While social justice minded peoples support the goal of assuring that all schoolchildren are fed and that schools are an appropriate place to provide nutrition, there has been no genuine discussion about where, when, and how schools are to provide these important services. Serious questions about BIC cutting into precious instructional time, causing serious hygiene and health concerns, and several other pressing issues remain unaddressed by BIC promoters.
The roll out of BIC in LAUSD has been a logistical nightmare with a range of problems surfacing. However, it was reports that the program was a dumping ground for expired food that were most disconcerting. These reports have now been confirmed with photographs and multiple eyewitnesses. Several schools reported receiving Quaker Oatmeal Bars that were all past the expiration date. On September 24, 2012 an educator took photos of the food provided for that day's BIC with expiration dates of September 11, 2012. With no written policy from LAUSD on what to do about expired and potentially spoiled food, educators and parent volunteers are caught in a dilemma.
Educators are loathe to serve expired food to schoolchildren, but are fearful of district reprisals for not following the mandates of the high profile program which was ushered in at the behest of ideologically charged billionaires and their foundations. Many educators were strongly rebuked by President García and Superintendent John Deasy for raising legitimate concerns about BIC in general, and they are fearful that questioning expired food will be portrayed by the district as obstructionism. Training and program materials disseminated to LAUSD staff don't address this and many other crucial issues. Neither does the district's strident, fact-deficient, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Several teachers told me that their principals instructed them to contact the LAUSD program manager, Victor Carranza, but they have not been able to reach him despite repeated attempts. My calls to the district with questions regarding these incidents went to voicemail and remain unanswered as well.
So far verified reports of expired foods being provided for BIC have been at schools serving predominantly low income and immigrant children. It's my hope that publicizing this information will mobilize the community so that they can stand behind these parents and educators and tell LAUSD Administration, The Walmart Foundation, and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex that we will not stand for them serving expired and potentially dangerous food to children! Contact LAUSD Food Services at (213) 241-2993 and President García (213) 241-6180 and let them know that expired food is not okay.
Many readers will be surprised to know that the primary funder behind BIC is the right-wing Walmart Foundation, who has pushed the program in many cities nationwide. Of course, corporate behemoth Walmart never does anything for purely altruist reasons, and respected school food advocate Dana Woldow outlines several of the low wage retailer's more nefarious motives for bankrolling BIC in Why Walmart loves free school breakfast.
While not nearly as grievous as expired food, other problems with LAUSD's BIC have been documented as well. While the district claims in their FAQ that there are no problems with pests, BIC meals are being distributed with syrup—which potentially attracts ants. At the elementary school where these syrup photos were taken, one child had to send home for a shirt after dousing themselves with syrup. When I was telling a parent volunteer that the district FAQ stated that "custodians in schools with BIC have noticed that students are neater throughout the school day," they laughed and said "have the people who wrote this ever known a child?"
The BIC FAQ also makes the assertion that "Breakfast in the Classroom takes just 10 minutes each day at the time the school period starts." This is not what parent volunteers and educators have been experiencing. Here's a typical anecdote shared with me by a veteran substitute teacher:
"We were provided pears, bread, and milk for Breakfast in the Classroom. We couldn't use the pears, which were too hard to be edible even for adults. These are small children, many of whom are transitioning from baby teeth. That left the bread and milk. My parent volunteer was great, they were coaching the children in what I call "power eating." He'd tell them take two bites from the bread, chew, now drink some milk. It was a very efficient operation. Total time for BIC with just a piece of bread and container of milk? Twenty five minutes from start to finish. You can imagine what it's like on days with more complicated meals."
The teacher's story sounded like myriad ones I've heard since the program went district-wide a few weeks ago. For a district so cash strapped that it shortened the school year, one would think instructional time would be at a premium. There has to be a better way of getting children fed while avoiding the myriad issues of BIC. Perhaps breakfast in the cafeteria? Had the program been discussed with various stake-holders instead of being implemented by fiat declaration, many of these issues could have been avoided. However, with intense pressure from the Walmart Foundation it's hard to imagine any input being solicited from the people the program affects the most.
It's interesting too that opportunistic career politicians like García and Villaraigosa are acting like they invented to concept of providing free breakfasts to children, when the programs BIC is based on originated in 1964. Discussing this with another activist elicited their response "glad Moníca [García] and Maria [Brenes] finally got the memo from President [Lyndon] Johnson regarding the war on poverty." Indeed.
BIC implementation, ideological, and funding issues aside, it is wholly unacceptable to serve schoolchildren expired and potentially spoiled food. Moreover, it is cynical and irresponsible of the district to leave the onus of what to do with those foods on individual educators and parent volunteers. There needs to be a clear policy that the district will not serve expired foods and that there are no repercussions towards employees or volunteers who carry that policy out. Ultimately, we need to have a schoolboard that listens to the communities it serves rather than large foundations and 501C3s.