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Advocates push for statewide breakfast in the classroom program

A student eats his cereal during breakfast period at Brockton Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. Children often struggle to finish their meals during lunch periods. The median time in U.S. elementary schools is 25 minutes. Credit: Richard Hartog for California Watch
Richard Hartog/California Watch
A student eats his cereal during breakfast period at Brockton Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Armed with a new poll that showed two-thirds of California voters support a statewide breakfast in the classroom program, food policy advocates on Thursday pushed for a bill to require needy schools to serve breakfast in some form.

Student who don't eat breakfast, they argued, tend to get lower grades while those who have a morning meal do better.

"We also see research that shows benefits ranging from classroom behavior to attendance to better health, [and] reduced visits to the school nurse," said Tia Shimada, managing advocate at the California Food Policy Advocates that sponsored The Field Poll survey.

Shimada said 80 percent of California public schools offer breakfast in the cafeteria before classes start, but that misses more than half of the students who qualify for free or reduced price meals.

Serving breakfast after the first bell rings would ensure more students have the energy they need for the school day, the group said.

For three years, Los Angeles Unified’s Breakfast in the Classroom program has served hundreds of thousands of students during the school day. The program, a signature initiative of former Superintendent John Deasy, has grown and diversified; some students can "grab and go" with their breakfast items. 

"This program is running very smoothly and very successfully," said Melissa Infusino, executive director of the LA Fund, which helped start the school district's breakfast in the classroom program in 2012.

However, many teachers complain the meals create a mess and draw bugs, and they say serving breakfast eats into students' learning time.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing teachers, has called for the program to be dismantled. UTLA said it continues to have concerns about the program.

Last year, UTLA said in a notice to parents: "All teachers believe that students should eat breakfast in order to do well in school; however, we believe students should eat a nutritional breakfast before school (not during class time), and in the cafeteria (not in the classroom)."

Shimada argues there are benefits to scheduling breakfast programs during class time.

"So even if you are using some minutes of instructional time to serve and have your children eat breakfast, you make that time up later in the day when kids are more focused, when their heads aren’t down on their desks because they’re tired or because they’re hungry," she said.

Shimada’s group is supporting a state bill that would compel the neediest schools to start a breakfast program of their choice during the school day. The breakfast could be served in the classroom, provided with food carts, or served in the cafeteria.

Assemblymen Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) introduced the bill in February.