OXNARD : District Allows Free Breakfasts at School

At the urging of Latino activists, the Oxnard Elementary School District reversed a month-old decision and agreed to begin serving free breakfasts to low-income students at the Juanita Elementary School in east Oxnard.

The trustees unanimously approved the breakfast program to begin Aug. 11 on a one-year, trial basis after 50 parents carrying petitions with 280 signatures attended a district board meeting Wednesday.

A month ago, the board had rejected a breakfast program proposal.

The latest appeal was organized by the community-based Padres Unidos Por La Integracion with help from the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, which had wanted the district to implement the breakfast program at all schools instead of at only one campus.

But Supt. Norman Brekke said that was not possible because of budget constraints.

"The board was concerned about any encroachment into educational funds," he said. "We will monitor participation, and see how much federal money is available to cover the operation of the program."

School districts are reimbursed between $1.06 and $1.23 per meal for students whose parents qualify as low-income. Students from more affluent families are allowed to eat breakfast at school, but they must pay the cost.

The 650-student Juanita School is in the predominately Latino neighborhood of La Colonia in east Oxnard, and many of the parents are farm laborers who leave for work too early to fix breakfast, said Principal Tony Zubia.

"The board chose a win-win situation," Zubia said. But the program will only be considered a success if enough children participate so that federal subsidies will cover the program's operational costs, trustee Jack Fowler said.

Twice in the last 25 years, the district has approved breakfast programs only to terminate them when participation dropped, said Fowler, who voted for the pilot program despite his doubts.

"If these kids are really hungry, why are they throwing so much food away at lunch?" Fowler asked in an interview.

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