by Christopher Paslay
In their recent editorial, School Breakfast Program, the Inquirer uses clever wording to once again suggest that Philadelphia public schools are failing to serve students free breakfast.
“Philadelphia principals are left to develop feeding programs as they see fit,” the Inquirer writes. “Many are unwilling to restructure the school day to serve breakfast.”
This statement is inaccurate and intentionally misleading. Instead of saying, Many principals are unwilling to forfeit instructional time and serve breakfast in class, the Inquirer insinuates that principals are not serving breakfast at all, which clearly isn’t the case; the Philadelphia School District offers free breakfast to every single child in every single school.
The typical school breakfast in Philadelphia is served in the cafeteria in the morning, about 20-30 minutes before the instructional day begins. The breakfast is FREE, and ALL students are eligible.
Of course, not all students are taking advantage of this free breakfast. One problem is that breakfast—and nutrition in general—is not a priority in too many homes in the city. Parents skip breakfast and so do their children.
In addition, many students come to school late and miss the free breakfast, opting instead to drink sodas and eat bags of potato chips as they mingle on the corner with friends.
But the Inquirer fails to acknowledge this. In fact, they go on to use a survey conducted during PSSA testing to further mislead readers:
“A Public Citizens for Children and Youth survey of 35 Philadelphia elementary schools found that 63 percent [of principals] changed their policy to make sure kids ate breakfast during test week,” the Inquirer states. “Besides measuring academic progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the test results are used to judge principals’ performance. So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools.”
The key phrase here is took extra steps to provide breakfast at their schools.
This sentence clearly suggests that principals are negligent when it comes to providing free breakfast to students, and that during PSSA test week, they “changed their policy” and agreed to feed their hungry children.
This of course is not true; again, the district serves free breakfast to every child in every school.
A more accurate way to convey the information would have been, So, during test week, some principals took extra steps to provide breakfast in class instead of simply offering it free of charge before school.
Later in their editorial, in a lame attempt to fill in the facts, the Inquirer acknowledges that the district does indeed provide a free breakfast to every child, and that many students simply aren’t taking advantage of the program.
“Every city school serves breakfast, and all students are eligible for the meal, regardless of income,” the Inquirer admits. “Yet, only about 51,000 of the 165,000 district students take advantage.”
And who does the Inquirer blame for this? Irresponsible parents? The students themselves? Of course not. That would go against the newspaper’s politics. The Inquirer absolves mothers and fathers of all blame and allows them to plead ignorance: Parents don’t take advantage of the breakfast program because they don’t know it exists.
The Inquirer instead blames principals. It’s not enough that school leaders offer a free breakfast to every single child in their school. Principals must also COAX them into eating it as well. In fact, the Inquirer even recommends that schools chief Arlene Ackerman give principals their “marching orders” and hold them accountable when meals go uneaten.
The arrogance of this is maddening. If the Inquirer is so keen on feeding hungry children, why don’t they donate free advertising space in their newspaper to announce the district’s breakfast program to all the city’s “uninformed” parents?
Or better still, why not run a public service message about the importance of nutrition, and encourage parents to get their children out of bed early enough to eat the healthy breakfast waiting for them free of charge in the school cafeteria?
Classrooms are for learning, not eating. Instructional time is limited. Students and their families must learn to follow the most basic of routines, and acquire the life skills and discipline necessary to function in our highly structured 21st century society.