Family breakfast-time

May 24, 1991

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.

Yet superintendent may have to. There are currently 4,000 elementary school kids in the county who live in households with incomes of $13,078 or less a year for a family of three. And there are an additional 2,000 whose family income is less than $19,536. Yet, only 116 kids participated in the school snack program last year.

Dubel's approach may be rooted in indisputably worthy values, but it is also built upon many shaky assumptions -- that students will tell the truth on the survey, that parents will heed the county's advice about eating a morning meal, that the working poor could, in fact, afford to provide that meal and, even if they can, that families will actually spend quality time together before rushing out the door at 7:30. Given all this, the attorney general is right to ask for proof that the county's program is working or demand that it institute a breakfast program next year.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.