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Proposed breakfast program causes concern

Posted: Friday, Feb 15th, 2013

Courier staff writer

VALLEY — A new breakfast bill has some Valley superintendents wondering who’s going to flip the flapjacks in the morning.

On Tuesday, Valley superintendents discussed House Bill 1006, the Breakfast After the Bell Nutrition Program in Low-Income Schools, with much concern over its implementation and appropriateness during the monthly Superintendents Advisory Council (SAC) meeting.

The bill, which advanced from the House Education Committee on Jan. 28 with a bipartisan vote, would create the program requiring every school with 70 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch to offer a free breakfast to each student in the school, according to Hunger Free Colorado (HFC), one of the bill’s many supporters. Individual schools may select a method and time to offer breakfast as long as it occurs after the first bell of the school. Exemptions are made for small schools and school districts and for public and charter schools that do not currently participate in the federal school lunch program.

The bill “is intended to allow schools and school districts to design a breakfast-serving model that fits the needs of the students, staff and school. The meals are easy to serve and designed to make little or no mess and minimal disposal,” according to HFC. Typical breakfast after-the-bell options include:

• Breakfast in the Classroom: Food is delivered to each classroom after school begins and students are permitted to eat breakfast in the classroom.

• Grab and Go: Students pick up bagged or boxed breakfast from carts or specified areas and are permitted to eat in either designated areas or the classroom.

• Breakfast After First: An extended passing or breakfast period is offered in the cafeteria, following the first or second period of the day.

• Other options include serving breakfast during an early recess or outdoor lesson.

The program does not require a school day extension, according to the bill. Colorado legislation already allows breakfast in a classroom to count for instructional minutes and most after-the-bell breakfast nutrition programs start and finish within 10 minutes often while the teacher is making announcements, collecting homework or taking attendance.

Center Consolidated School District Superintendent George Welsh, however, doesn’t foresee the program meshing with daily instructional procedures so easily. His school district, which has a poverty rate hovering around 90 percent, already has a breakfast program in place serving students before the instructional period begins.

“We have a great breakfast program,” Welsh said. “Our buses arrive early enough...

What bugs me is if we do this for 70 percent poverty communities, teachers are not going to want to come in early to get this thing done.”

Sanford School District Superintendent Kevin Edgar added, “It is attacking our local control. Communities that need this have a program in place... Let the districts work it out.”

Most Valley school districts have a breakfast program in place. During the 2010-2011 school year, a total of 550,179 breakfast meals were served to Valley students, up 48,641 from the prior year, according to HFC. All the meals served fell under either the severe reduced or severe free categories in addition to paid meals.

According to the data breakdown, 73,491 severe reduced breakfast meals were served in Valley schools and 363,101 severe free. There were no non-severe reduced or free meals provided. The previous year, 69,045 severe reduced breakfasts were served and 327,101 severe free.

Superintendents were also concerned the food served would not be eaten and go to waste, students would miss the opportunity to eat breakfast with their families and that the program would put another financial stress on districts.

“We can’t redistribute the food that isn’t eaten,” said Monte Vista School District Superintendent Robert Webb. “I think we are taking away from the family. We aren’t doing the school a favor.”

North Conejos School District Superintendent Kevin Schott agreed and added he didn’t approve of bringing meals into the classroom.

“Why? We have lunch rooms and that is why we have them,” Schott said.

In contrast, Alamosa Elementary (AE) was designated a Universal Free Lunch school last November for the 2012-2013 year. The school is able to offer both breakfast and lunch to all 1,034 AE students because of the school’s high free or reduced meal eligibility. In 2011, the district as a whole had over 70 percent of its students eligible for free or reduced lunch, 58 percent eligible for free lunch and 13 percent eligible for reduced price lunch.

Also, AE students already eat breakfast in the classroom without showing signs of lost instructional time.

Implementing the program in low-income schools would bring an estimated $27.8 million in new federal funding into the state spent locally with Colorado farmers and businesses, according to HFC. The 70-percent or more free and reduced-price meal threshold ensures that the federal/state reimbursement covers all costs for schools and districts, and the bill will generate up to $4,126,644 in additional revenue to school food and nutrition programs statewide.

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