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Board Puts the Fizz Back in High School Beverage Sales

Times Education Writer

Finding that its ban on soft drinks had met the same fate as Prohibition’s ban on hard drinks, the Los Angeles school board voted Monday to again allow carbonated beverages to be sold in district high schools.

Soft drinks were taken out of Los Angeles high schools in 1980 in a crackdown on “junk food,” but students told the board Monday that many teen-agers simply leave campus at noon and return with the beverages.

Student leaders complained that the junk food ban has enriched nearby convenience shops and liquor stores and has meant a loss of $5,000 a year per school in student activity funds.

Tom Bartman, who sponsored the repeal, accused those favoring a junk food ban of being “dietary Puritans” who want to impose their views on others. He called them “ill-informed amateurs” who do not realize that fruit juices often have more sugar than the banned soft drinks.

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In reply, Rita Walters called the motion a “vote for unenlightened self-indulgence.”

After each side in the debate accused the other of being “hypocrites,” the board voted 4 to 3 to bring back the carbonated drinks to high school vending machines, profits from which go to student activity funds.

However, the ban on “water ices, chewing gums, certain candies and potato chips” remains in effect.

In 1979, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed banning junk foods in schools, and the next year, after public hearings and prolonged debate, the district board approved such a policy.

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Now as then, however, no one could agree on a precise definition for junk food. Unknown to many, the original ban permitted the sale of 22 types of candy, because they had some “nutrient,” usually a few nuts. However, potato chips, which have nutrients, were prohibited.

The sale of beverages such as Hi-C have been permitted because they have Vitamin C. However, some soft drinks with less sugar and fewer calories are not.

“I’ve been a diabetic for four years, and I’ve learned a little about sugar and nutrition,” Bartman said after the vote. “I’m not advocating carbonated beverages,” he said, but he contended that to ban soft drinks “strains our credibility with children.”

Eric Blum, a Birmingham High School student who spoke in favor of the repeal, said, “There’s a McDonald’s across the street and a 7-Eleven near that, and at lunch, somebody goes and buys the Cokes to bring back.”

Changing the policy would “only make available” these drinks, he said, and “give the choice back to the students.”

But the three board members who opposed the change--Walters, Roberta Weintraub and Jackie Goldberg--said the schools should take a stand on what is good or bad for students.

“These are educational institutions, not a market arena,” Walters said. “This is our last chance to say to them that there is a better way.”

“If these products don’t have any food value, why should we serve them at school?” Goldberg asked. “Before school or after school or at home, that’s their business.”

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Weintraub, who led the fight for the original ban, described herself as a “health food zealot.”

“I look forward to living to be 150 so I can laugh at anyone who has been drinking carbonated beverages and smoking cigarettes,” Weintraub said.

She said she was disturbed that the 1980 policy had been “diluted,” adding, “I would go much further if I could. You can’t say carbonated beverages are good for you.”

While the students said they were most interested in enriching their activity funds, which get a share of on-campus sales, board members were less impressed with that argument.

“We would make a lot of money selling all kinds of things on campus,” Weintraub said, noting cigarettes and marijuana as two examples.

Board President John Greenwood, who cast the deciding vote, said he was swayed by Bartman’s argument that the schools were setting a “double standard.” School officials and teachers drink carbonated beverages and coffee, he said, while trying to ban the same products for students.

On another matter, the board voted 6 to 1 to oppose a bill in the Legislature that would fine principals up to $1,000 for changing a grade given by a teacher.

The bill, sponsored by the Los Angeles teachers union, would give teachers the final say in setting grades, but board members said students also deserved a right to appeal. Goldberg, a high school teacher, voted “no,” saying many teachers in other districts are pressured to change grades.

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