If you have never felt hunger, it can be hard to understand how debilitating it can be. Too many children in the Commonwealth experience this and effectively are on an open road with an empty tank, stuck watching the more fortunate pupils race by. In Chelsea, MA, a strong, vibrant, and diverse city, we are in the fight of our lives.
Massachusetts Parents United has pushed for the past 2 years for legislation that would ensure that children in need of nutrition would receive it. This bill is called Breakfast After The Bell.
In a nutshell, the bill mandates that the State implement the federally funded Breakfast After the Bell program in all public K-12 schools that serve 60 percent or more students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The program is flexible and allows school districts the option of providing breakfast in the classroom, grab and go, or second-chance breakfast.
Hungry children are not eating breakfast because it is not being served within school hours. Statewide, about 90 percent of students in high-poverty schools receive free or reduced school lunch, but less than 40 percent eat school breakfast. In Chelsea, this statistic falls behind the state with breakfast participation at 31 percent. In contrast, lunch participation is at 83 percent. The point is clear: If students are offered a nutritious school meal as a part of the normal school day, THEY WILL EAT IT!
Now we have to discuss what is the crux of the issue: adults opposing a common-sense bill who have no legs to stand on! FEED OUR KIDS! Honestly, I wish I could pinpoint a respectable counterpoint to this bill, but we have not found any and some are just downright maddening. Opposition from Chelsea Public School Superintendent Bourque is based on concerns that including breakfast within school hours would somehow exacerbate rodent and bug infestations. I had no idea that rodents and bugs prefer a later morning breakfast and therefore, will be lining up in droves if we push the timing of the meal. Ridiculous.
This is not to say that safe and sanitary learning spaces are a joke. We all need to put our heads together to solve sanitary issues. But the idea that this bill would do anything to exacerbate our problems is just lip service.
What cannot be glossed over is the fact that providing more nutrition will result in lower rates of absences and tardiness, higher rates of achievement, fewer visits to the school nurse for stomach-aches and headaches, improved dietary intake, and better health outcomes. Not to mention, If all schools in Chelsea reached 80 percent participation in breakfast, the district would draw down an additional $513,000 dollars each year – monies that could be invested in sourcing healthier and more expensive menu items including locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
There is also funding available to PAY FOR the implementation and training cost of the program! If you’re still trying to understand why Chelsea Public School Superintendent Bourque “has concerns,” YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
We requested a meeting with Chelsea Public Schools and the Superintendent, and we asked for a hearing before Chelsea City Council. We were denied. We mobilized concerned parents from Chelsea and across the Commonwealth to testify on behalf of the Breakfast After The Bell Bill and counter the FAKE NEWS about it. What’s the fake news? It will NOT CAUSE PESTS AND BUGS in the classroom. Part of the program includes setting up a cleaning protocol and the additional implementation funds are used for cleaning supplies and wipes. Kids with allergies will NOT BE AT RISK. If we can work with parent, nurses, and teachers to manage food allergies in the cafeteria, we can do it in the classroom too (come on people!).
We need to stop playing politics because at the beginning of every single the day, our kids need breakfast.
By Ed Shoemaker