Some CPS parents object to mandatory classroom breakfasts

Cindi Sodolski says she worried about the "Breakfast in the Classroom" program due her son, Nate's, food allergies. (Terrence Antonio James/Tribune)

In an interview, CPS parent Joy Mollet said she was appalled by the classroom breakfast program offered by her children's public preschool and does not want to see it at their grade school, Hawthorne Scholastic Academy.

"The waste is unbelievable because there is so little time and the food can be unappetizing," said Mollet, who has three children at Hawthorne. "On top of that, my children were eating breakfast at home and then had to sit down again to another one."

Hawthorne PTA president Laura Durudogan sent a letter Tuesday to school board president Mary Richardson-Lowry making a case for allowing the school to opt out of the program. With a low-income rate of just 16.4 percent (compared with 86 percent for the district), Durudogan said the small school is able to meet hunger needs with a free breakfast program offered before class starts.

Northwestern University education professor and Nettelhorst School parent Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach also thinks schools should be able to opt out. But "with one of the shortest instructional days in the nation, I don't want to see any school — especially those who might need class time the most — lose more." She advocates finding a way to make up for lost time across the board.

Many critics also wonder if a teacher can really get children to grab and eat breakfast, then clean up effectively, within 15 minutes.

At McAuliffe Elementary, which started the program in 2007, principal David Pino said it is possible, though students don't always finish their food. He also said teachers can use the time to take attendance or even read to students while they eat.

Most of his teachers opposed the program initially, Pino said, but today it has become "part of the culture. One teacher even saw how hungry the kids were and she said, 'Shame on us for resisting.'"

Pino acknowledges that his school has only one child with an allergy issue and serves a student body that is 98 percent low income. "But even in the more affluent schools, parents are in a hurry to get to work and there isn't always time to make breakfast," he said.

Kim Lutz, who has a son with food allergies at Bell, said she feels cautiously optimistic about working with CPS on a joint solution.

"But if my son ever got hurt, my conciliatory nature would be gone," she said. "We would sue CPS and it would cost them a lot of money."

Tribune reporter Cynthia Dizikes contributed.