Bob Dubel is trying to foster strong families in Baltimore County. The county schools superintendent believes breakfast is a time when kids and moms and dads can gather around the table and share quality time. And he has shaped a unique program to make that happen. But the problem is twofold: The county is pursing its family-fostering breakfast policy in lieu of offering free- and reduced-price breakfasts to its poor children. And, more important, no one knows if it's working -- least of all the attorney general, who has questioned the legality of Baltimore County's program.
State law requires that all elementary schools which have more than 15 percent low-income enrollment either offer a breakfast program or a workable alternative. And every other jurisdiction in Maryland offers a morning meal in schools that meet the criteria. But Baltimore County, instead, surveys students each fall and asks whether they come to school hungry two or more days a week. Then the parents of students who answer affirmatively are contacted and offered information about the importance of breakfast and good nutrition. A snack is provided in school for those students whose parents appear uncooperative or hostile. But otherwise, Dubel insists, breakfast should be a family responsibility, and a time for families to be together. He won't intrude.