L.A. school board targets McTeacher's Nights, but not all fast-food fundraisers

Fast-food restaurants got something of a reprieve from the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday with the softening of a proposed ban on their involvement in fundraisers.

In a resolution approved by a 5-1 vote, the school board nixed McTeacher’s Nights fundraisers at McDonald’s but removed language that would have automatically restricted school partnerships with other restaurants.

School board President Steve Zimmer said the goal was to clarify and enforce existing district policy prohibiting “sponsorship from corporations that market, sell or produce products that may be harmful to children, including, but not limited to, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, gambling, or high-fat and -calorie foods and drinks.”

“I would argue McTeacher Night is an egregious violation of this policy,” Zimmer said.

Near-immediate pushback compelled Zimmer to accept revisions to his resolution.

First, Karen Calderon, a Hamilton High senior who has an advisory vote as the board’s student representative, said students she spoke with were concerned that the resolution’s language would broadly prohibit fundraisers.

Zimmer tweaked a sentence to allay her worries.

Then board member Monica Ratliff voiced her fear that the resolution would have broad consequences, intended or not. She rattled off a list of restaurants that she thought also would end up barred: Carl’s Jr., Original Tommy’s Hamburgers, Shakey’s Pizza Parlor, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Chuck E. Cheese’s, In-N-Out Burger as well as the city’s ubiquitous taco trucks.

Ratliff was agnostic on Carl’s Jr. but said she loved In-N-Out. Chipotle, she added, might pass the resolution’s muster.

Zimmer insisted he wasn’t trying to be a killjoy.

“The attempt here is not vegetarian overreach, if you would,” said Zimmer, who is a vegetarian. “The attempt here is to bring us in line with our policy. Either we have a policy or we don’t.”

Zimmer then deleted language implying that all fast-food purveyors automatically would be banned.

Ratliff agreed that McTeacher’s Nights were too much — with teachers getting behind the counter at McDonald’s to take orders from students and parents.

But Zimmer could not win over Scott Schmerelson, a frequent ally on other issues. Schmerelson, a retired principal, said he “must have gotten 40 emails from principals” complaining about the potential loss of their biggest fundraiser and calling him “crazy” — presumably for his possible support of the ban.

He noted that students sometimes spurn the healthy fare offered in school lunches and dash out after school to “buy the greasiest things you ever saw.” He also pointed out that McDonald’s now includes healthier options on its menu.

Schmerelson was the only “no” vote, the lone voice of solace for Frank Sanchez, a McDonald’s franchise owner for 35 years with seven restaurants in Los Angeles.

"As a member of the community and a McDonald’s franchisee, I have long supported what matters most to my customers and the community,” Sanchez said in an email provided by the company. “McTeacher’s Nights are one way we do that. They are held at the request of and in partnership with local schools, and have helped raise needed additional funds that go to improving the educational experience of students.”

To read the article in Spanish, click here

howard.blume@latimes.com

@howardblume

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