Parents Welcome But Keep Your Opinions At the Door

I'm sure by now you have heard about a program that CPS is implementing in all schools this Spring, Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC).  This is a program where the current Universal Breakfast served before school in the cafeteria will be discontinued and breakfast will instead be served in the classroom after school begins.  

No need to worry! They (CPS and Chartwells*) say it will take only 10 minutes out of the school day.  It will be an exciting and fast-paced 10 minutes for the teacher/server.  These 10 minutes will encompass the pledge of allegiance, the taking of attendance, the collection of lunch money, the retrieval of homework and now breakfast service. On a good day, I can't imagine doing one of those things in 10 minutes but they (CPS and Chartwells*) must have a lot of faith in teachers’ abilities.

Don't get me wrong; I have faith in my children's teachers to teach.  I just don't have faith that they can do all the tasks above and distribute and open up food packages for students, get them to clean up after they are finished and also clean up accidents within 10 minutes. I believe it will be closer to 20-30 minutes before the actual education portion of the day begins. So CPS, which has the shortest school day and school calendar of all major cities, will now have even less time.

Apparently this program needs to be implemented at all schools and schools have no say on opting out. Why must this be, you ask? Perhaps schools have no choice on this issue because higher participation means more money for the CPS coffers.  While the estimated cost to produce each breakfast is about $1, USDA gives the schools $1.76 for each "severe need" child, $1.46 per "reduced-price meals" child and $0.26 for children who do not qualify for reduced or free lunch.  This comes out to an extra $18.7 million a year. See Chicago Tribune article.

The arguments against BIC by parents include a range of reasons, not the least of which is concern about food allergies. The counter argument by Chartwells* and CPS has been a cry of 'You are trying to deprive poor children of food.'   Well, how do you challenge that kind of straw man?  The rich against the poor.  The haves against the have-nots.  And they pull this straw man out at every opportunity, like Thursday night on Chicago Tonight. It's a political tactic we've seen before: try to create friction in a group that opposes your policies.

CPS states that they are concerned about allergies (and apparently $18.7 million). Somehow, to CPS, allergies have become problems unique to the "Whole Foods eating" upper class. As far as I know, allergies are not discriminatory. Every ethnicity and economic group deals with them and this problem is increasing at every school.  My son's class has 3 kids with peanut allergies, so this single allergy affects roughly 10% of his class. This is to say nothing of other issues like celiac disease, diabetes, and an array of food sensitivities.

Another straw man used by CPS is the concern that “Poor students feel stigma for needing a free breakfast.” The current Universal Breakfast plan provides a free breakfast to any CPS student who goes to the cafeteria before school starts. So essentially, any child can get a free breakfast, no paperwork required. Hopefully one day CPS will extend this level of concern about the stigma of being uneducated and poor and provide a healthy and filling education for all.

So let's put this in perspective: CPS has the shortest school day in the country and they are making it shorter; they want to feed all the students BIC and yet are not concerned about the loss of curriculum time or the fact that many children may have already eaten.  They also don't seem that concerned that many schools currently only get 10-20 minutes for lunch and maybe if you are really lucky, 10 minutes for recess. (Only 37% of CPS has recess). So more food and no exercise. This in a country where obesity rates among kids are soaring.

To me, it sounds like CPS has given up the education business and has decided to raise veal.  Make sure you take the young ones, feed them, keep them in really tight quarters and don't let them get any exercise as it may turn to muscle.

Part of my disgust is how they are treating the concerns of parents.  Parents who spend their whole waking day trying to make sure the environment is safe so their child does not go into anaphylactic shock are being told that that they are selfish for not thinking of poor starving children. Is this really an either/or situation? Parents are simply asking CPS to keep food in the cafeteria and offer breakfast before school like it is done now. No policy changes, no extra steps, no hunger.

Every politician and CPS CEO touts parental involvement as an important factor in the success of a school and I have been fortunate enough to see it in action at my children's school. What I am slowly realizing however is that CPS wants parental involvement, but only up to a point.  They want parents to cover the staff shortfalls, fund art and music classes, chaperone field trips, organize events and host fundraisers but opinions, concerns and ideas are not welcome. CPS is willing to take all the time and money we are willing to give but that's where our involvement ends.  The BIC program has underscored the fact that we are in no way partners; we need not know why they make policies, how they implement them or when they go in to effect.  It’s none of our business. I can't say my feelings aren't hurt but I guess sometimes in a relationship it's better to know where you stand.

*Chartwells is CPS’ largest food vendor and an enthusiastic supporter of BIC