The Chicago Board of Education passed a mandate requiring free breakfast to be served in all elementary school classrooms. Hundreds of parents have signed petitions objecting, citing everything from food allergies to lack of nutrition, to a waste of classroom time. We talked to three local moms about the program. Here’s what they had to say:
Elizabeth Bielke, mother of a first grader at a Chicago Public School, says she is completely against the program. Her daughter’s school doesn’t have it yet, she says, but it should be available by mid-April.
Bielke says the school has a free breakfast in the cafeteria now and she doesn’t see why it should be implemented in the classroom setting.
“I feel like I should have the choice to feed my child what I want to feed her for breakfast,” she said. “She should be in the classroom to learn, not to eat.”
Bielke objects to the program for several reasons, including loss of instruction time.
“Chicago has one of the lowest school hour days in country. We need to educate our kids, we don’t need to feed them,” she said.
And while Bielke says she understands that there are some low-income families who may need their child to eat the free breakfast, she thinks the option should remain in the cafeteria.
“If you need breakfast, you will do what you need to do to get your kid to school in the morning,” she said.
Bielke also says the breakfast lacks nutrition.
“I do realize there are hungry children in our city but we do have a nationwide obesity epidemic,” she said.
Bielke calls the mandatory breakfast in class an enormous waste of time and money.
“There are many ways to get food to children,” she said. “We do not have to use up education time to do it.”
Amy Bocchetta, whose son is a fourth-grader at a Chicago Public School, is also a high school teacher. She likes the program that has already been implemented in her son’s school. She says that the light breakfast is usually cereal and milk, with a piece of fruit.
“My son does get the school breakfast. It works out very well for us because he has to catch the bus so early in the morning, and he’s not hungry at 6:30 am, so it works out that he gets to school and has a nutritious breakfast,” said Bocchetta.
She says it is vital that students aren’t hungry when they come to school.
“As a teacher, it’s so important that the kids come to school with something in their stomachs because when they didn’t have a healthy breakfast, it is reflected right away in behavior and learning,” she said.
While Bocchetta acknowledges kids with food allergies, she doesn’t think that should stop the program.
“What is the percentage of kids with life-threatening allergies that we would have to cut out entire programs for kids from homes where people might not have time or money to provide a healthy breakfast?” she asks.
Bocchetta doesn’t worry about lost instruction time.
“It’s not a full sit-down meal. More classroom time is lost when kids are trying to learn on empty stomachs, or with candy for breakfast from vending machines,” she said.
Angela McBride is the parent of a CPS kindergartener. The classroom breakfast program at her daughter’s school is already in effect. She says her daughter has Celiac disease and must eat a gluten-free diet.
McBride says the school breakfast consists of sugary cereal or a pastry, neither of which her daughter can eat, and fruit and milk.
McBride says she talked to the school about her daughter’s dietary restrictions, and she even offered to send her own breakfast with her daughter to school. But she was told that outside food was not allowed in the classroom, and that it had to be provided by the vendor. She says the food is set up in the back of the classroom on a table and kids are allowed to help themselves.
She says even if her daughter did not suffer from food allergies, she wouldn’t want her to eat the breakfast anyway, because she thinks it is unhealthy.
“If I had a child who was prone to obesity or diabetes, and they ate breakfast at home and then go to school and are given the choice to have a second breakfast filled with sugar, it can cause other health problems,” said McBride.
But she does agree that breakfast should be available to kids who need it.
“I think it’s great they are providing breakfast to kids, especially kids that don’t have food options available to them at home in the morning, whether their parents are busy, or working early, or don’t have income,” she said.
But she says she doesn’t like the implication that they are pitting the parents of kids with food allergies against parents with low incomes.
“They are putting kids with health issues at risk because they want to accommodate kids with income issues,” she said. “There’s got to be a better way to accommodate both.”
McBride also says it’s not wise to bring the food into a classroom setting where the teachers are already overworked and there is no proper food safety.
“I think breakfast should be available to kids who choose to participate in the program,” she said. “But in the classroom part is my problem.”
Do you approve of school breakfasts in the classroom? Post your comment or sound off on our discussion board.