Two resolutions before the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday would extend the school system's already extensive food-related activism. The first would ban "McTeacher's Night" school fundraisers hosted by McDonald's restaurants. The second would direct district officials to develop a vegan option for every cafeteria meal.
The L.A. Unified School District "has a strong interest in and obligation to promote the health of children, which leads to better attendance, improved behavior, lower incidence of illness, and increased attention, creativity and academic achievement," states the preamble to the fundraising restrictions.
An "epidemic" of diet-related disease "disproportionately impacts communities of color," the resolution goes on. "Studies have shown these children are also disproportionately targeted in marketing."
McDonald's did not provide a response, but in a previously published statement said its participation in fundraisers reflects genuine bonds between local restaurants, their customers and schools. "McDonald's franchisees and our corporate restaurants have long supported what matters most to them," the company said in comments provided to the Washington Post. "McTeacher's Nights are one example."
District guidelines already prohibit schools from seeking sponsorship from corporations that market, sell or produce products that may be harmful to children, including alcohol and firearms as well as high-fat and high-calorie foods and drinks. Still, McTeacher promotions have taken place more than 120 times from 2013 through 2016, according to research provided by the Boston nonprofit Corporate Accountability International.
"This is about being sure that our policies actually mean something, that we're not directly participating in the marketing of food with high-caloric, high-fat content," said school board President Steve Zimmer, who sponsored the resolution along with board members George McKenna and Richard Vladovic.
Across the country, even districts that officially forbid these fundraisers "allow events that occur outside of school hours — in spite of the fact that administrators often advertise such events during school hours," said Sriram Madhusoodanan, a campaign director for Corporate Accountability International. "To our knowledge, LAUSD is the only school district that has taken this step — namely, to entirely end junk food sponsorships within the district."
At the fundraisers, teachers get behind the counters at the fast-food restaurants while parents and students line up to buy food. A portion of sales goes to the school or a school-related organization. The Corporate Accountability group said that McDonald's asks for a minimum of 10 teachers and a principal to attend events and to promote them, according to public records obtained from school districts.
McDonald's previously said it compiled data for the 10% of U.S. McDonald's restaurants it owns directly. From January 2013 through September 2015, these outlets raised more than $2.5 million at McTeacher's Nights, the corporation said.
Tuesday's resolution makes it explicit that board policy applies to any association with fast food, on campus or off. It also directs Supt. Michelle King to "issue a letter to the McDonald's Corporation, the McDonald's Operators' Association of Southern California, and all other relevant companies and fast food chains."
Zimmer is locked in a May runoff election against challenger Nick Melvoin, who said that, given the school system's precarious finances, the matter should be left to individual schools.
"We shouldn't handcuff the ability of schools to make their own decisions based on their particular circumstances," Melvoin said.
L.A. Unified was among the first school systems to ban the sale of junk food on campus. Last month, the district approved contracts with chicken suppliers that were evaluated based on how they treat their chickens, their workers and the environment.
As for the vegan alternative entrees, even before the resolution surfaced, district food services was looking into options, and planned to launch a pilot program next fall, said its director, Joseph K. Vaughn.
The Zimmer-sponsored resolution, which is being introduced Tuesday and will be voted on at the next meeting, would effectively mandate the pilot program. It gives King's team 90 days to prepare a plan to expand vegan options beyond what will be available in the fall tryout.
The district "is home to students with a vast variety of backgrounds, nationalities, races and creeds, a portion of whom are vegetarian, vegan or intolerant to animal based foods for physiological reasons," the resolution states. "Students deserve to have access to foods that form lasting healthy habits and do not promote disease."
As a longtime vegetarian, Zimmer does not eat meat. Vegans avoid any foods derived from or produced by animals, including eggs, dairy products and honey.
Melvoin did not offer an opinion on the vegan resolution.