Cheney Free Press -

Breakfast before the Bell has consequences

In Our Opinion


January 18, 2018

A bill that would require certain public schools to provide breakfast to children who arrive after classes have begun and traditional breakfast is no longer being served is making its way through the Washington Legislature.

House Bill 1508, known as “Breakfast after the Bell,” passed the House 83-15 and now heads to the Senate for consideration. The bill, if enacted into law, would supplement a federal nutrition program by setting up a collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to supply breakfast to students in high-need schools who missed the normal breakfast period.

High-need schools are defined as those with 70 percent or more of students enrolled in the federal free and reduced meals program. In the Cheney and Medical Lake school districts, only the alternative high schools would fall into this category, with Cheney’s Sunset Elementary School close at 66 percent, according to figures for the 2016-2017 school year.

Providing breakfast to students who may not be able to get that day-starting nutrition at home is a noble idea, one we support. A brief synopsis of numerous studies compiled by the Food Research and Action Council (FRAC) indicate children who eat breakfast at school — closer to class and test-taking time — perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast at home.

It also showed that students participating in the federal School Breakfast Program show improved attendance, behavior and academic progress as well as decreased tardiness. Providing breakfast also enhances student concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory and learning.

All of us could do well to make sure we have a good breakfast before school or work. Currently in schools, that is limited to before the start of classes.

But the “Breakfast after the Bell” expands this. Under the proposed law, students who missed breakfast could get breakfast after the bell through models such as “grab and go” where students literally grab easy-to-eat breakfast foods either before heading to class or in between classes.

There is also the “second chance breakfast” served to students during recess, a nutrition break or later in the morning, and the “breakfast in the classroom” where breakfast is served in the classroom during homeroom or first period.

While getting students proper nutrition is a valuable idea, there could be unintended consequences for others with this program. Some instructors might find it disruptive to have students eating while they’re attempting to teach in the classroom setting.

What about students who don’t qualify for free and reduced meals, but missed breakfast nonetheless and possibly through no fault of their own? How would they feel sitting next to a classmate who is eating breakfast only because they couldn’t get to school on time?

The estimated cost for the proposed “Breakfast after the Bell” program is approximately $500,000. That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of state funding, but what if the program grows to include other meals, other students. The costs would grow accordingly.

It’s important to provide our students proper nutrition to help in their learning process, but where is the parental role in this? We understand some parents simply can’t arrange breakfast — or other meals for that matter — for their children because of work schedules or other impediments.

But too often these days we are forcing schools to take up more and more of the responsibility not only for the education of our children, but also their physical and mental well-being. That is increasing financial and professional strains upon our education system.

Where does all this end? Where does the responsibility of parents end, and our educators begin?


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