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School Board Relents, OKs Sale of Junk Food

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

In the midst of a statewide push to improve the nutritional content of school menus, the Los Angeles school board has scrapped its 10-year-old ban on the sale of junk food in school cafeterias.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was ahead of the pack in 1980 when it stopped selling potato chips, soda and other snacks deemed nutritionally deficient in cafeteria lunch lines, believing that the availability of the fat- and-sugar-laden goodies would keep children from eating healthier foods.

But now, beset by cuts in federal food allocations, higher food prices and salary costs, and policies that allow student-run stores to sell the forbidden snacks on campus, the district can no longer afford to forgo the money junk food sales generate.

“I’m ashamed of what happened tonight, but we really don’t have a choice,” board member Roberta Weintraub said after Monday’s unanimous vote to scrap the ban. “It’s a question of jobs versus junk food.”

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Without resorting to junk food sales--which are likely to generate several million dollars a year--the district faced a $10-million deficit in its cafeteria fund and the likelihood of laying off more than 100 cafeteria workers.

In addition to adding the popular snacks to junior high and high school menus, elementary schools will be allowed to sell “nutritious cookies, ice cream or fruit desserts” with lunch.

The district also will increase student lunch prices by 10 cents for elementary pupils and 25 cents for junior high and high school students. However, 80% of district students come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price meals. They will not have to pay the higher prices.

The district also will save money by limiting lunch choices available to teachers.

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Weintraub, who spearheaded the original move to remove junk food from school menus, said the ban was doomed by a district policy that allows student-run stores on high school campuses to sell the snacks, with the profits going to pay for student activities.

“That destroyed our junk food policy,” Weintraub said. “When kids could walk down the hall and buy candy and Coke during lunchtime, we couldn’t keep them in the cafeteria.”

The loss of student dollars became too much for the cash-strapped school district to withstand.

“I’m strongly supportive of our junk food policy prohibiting cafeteria sales,” said board President Jackie Goldberg, “but it seems to me, if you can buy a soft drink a few feet away, the difference is only in rhetoric.”

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