Reactions mixed to free CPS breakfast

March 25, 2011 2:48:18 PM PDT
Chicago Public Schools are serving up a side order of controversy with their new breakfast program.

Every elementary school student will soon get breakfast every morning.

Free breakfast is already served on a voluntary basis in several elementary schools, but studies show many hungry kids don't participate because they fear being singled out as potentially disadvantaged.

So CPS is taking a more proactive approach, and that has some parents worried.

Jose Hernandez says his daughter no longer goes to school hungry, and it's made a difference.

"The ability to concentrate, the grades, the behavior -- everything changes," Hernandez said.

His daughter, 8-year-old Evette is a second-grader at Calmeca Academy on the Southwest Side, one of nearly 200 schools offering breakfast for those who want it.

But soon, every student in every CPS elementary school will begin their day with a meal in their classroom.

The program, officials say, will help parents who lack the time or means to provide breakfast.

"If we could focus solely on the instruction of our students and not have these broader societal concerns, that would be one thing, but we don't live in that world," said Interim CEO at CPS Terry Mazany.

However, more than a thousand CPS parents have signed petitions objecting to mandatory breakfast in the classroom.

Some say the 10- to 15-minute meal will eat into valuable class time, while others are concerned about health and cleanliness.

"We are not against serving the breakfast at all. The hungry kids need to eat. We just want it out of the classroom and into the cafeteria," said parent Cindi Sodolski.

Sodolski's 8-year-old son Nathan has severe dairy, egg and peanut allergies.

"If you're exposed to things you know that can kill you all day, every day, the child cannot learn," Sodolski said.

Hernandez says his daughter's school already allows kids to eat their breakfast in the classroom.

Supporters of the program, say health concerns can be worked out.

"If you have any challenges at home with your child, I strongly encourage parents to meet with their principals, go meet with their local school councils, go meet with their school wellness teams and develop a plan," said Guillermo Gomez with the Healthy Schools Campaign

"It's a good thing that they're taking care of this especially in this economy when two parents need to work or the two parents might not be working," Hernandez said.

The breakfast program is federally funded, so CPS is not footing the bill.

In fact, the district is expected to make money on the program, more than $18 million a year, because the cost of the meals is less than the funding.

The mandatory program begins at some schools in a couple months.