Earlier this year, in an attempt to make sure that children get a nutritious breakfast to open the school day, the Los Angeles Unified School District began a pilot program that allowed breakfast to be served in the opening minutes of first period — in class as opposed to before classes started in the cafeteria. As a result of the experiment, 84% of students who qualified for free- or reduced-price breakfast program took advantage of it compared to 29% who came in early to eat breakfast before school started.
Now that the district is looking to expand the program to a further 279 schools starting this fall, the largest teachers union in the city, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has asked that it be allowed to weigh in on the matter during the next round of contract negotiations. According to Juan Ramirez, the union's representative, UTLA isn't asking for the program to be scrapped, but merely wish to add their voice to how it is implemented. They want the district to explain how teachers are to deal with side effects of the program including possible cleanup and loss of class time.
"Teachers were left in the dark," said Ramirez, the union's elementary schools vice president. "It's just the way the district does things. There's resentment about the lack of respect."
District superintendent John Deasy said that he was surprised by the union's request, saying that it is highly unusual for teachers to involve themselves in issues of student nutrition. After all, it's hard to argue that the program is working, and thereby making the teachers' job easier. Schools who have already begun to make time for breakfast during class are reporting fewer disciplinary problems, lower rates of absenteeism, and reduction of health complaints necessitating visits to the nurse's office.
The program, open to all students in the schools that offer it, has also helped bring $6 million in federal reimbursements to L.A. Unified, he said.
At Figueroa Street Elementary in South L.A., the program has had its share of kinks. Shadette Loper, a first-grade teacher, said there were plenty of accidents the first few weeks: spilled milk, leaking juice bags, cereal flying when little hands inartfully opened the boxes.
Loper said, however, that most of these mishaps went away after a week or two, and now her students get through their breakfast quickly and without issue. The cleanup is handled by the kids themselves. What seems to be the issue is how long the entire process takes. According to Loper, from start to finish, breakfast uses up to 30 minutes of class time, which many teachers say they can not spare if they are to cover all the material they are required to by law.