Be Reasonable, Board Tells Teachers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) – The school board of Central Falls, one of the poorest towns in the state, has sued the Teachers Union, which demanded arbitration of its grievance that teachers not be required to participate in a Breakfast in the Classroom program, and that the program not be instituted during instructional time. The superintendent and school board say the program fulfills an “abject need” in the city, whose median household income is only half that of the state.

     According to the Superior Court complaint, 77 percent of Central Falls public school students qualified for free breakfast at school, but only 29 percent were eating it in September 2009, before the district instituted the Breakfast in the Classroom program. Under the old system, students had to report to school half an hour early, at 7:30 a.m., to get the free breakfast.
     Under the new, federally funded program, which the district introduced at a single elementary school, students ate in the classroom. The district says the meal took no more than 10 minutes, and that the program “requires no additional duties for teachers, in that the breakfasts are distributed by school food service, Aramark. The breakfast is distributed by Aramark in a bag that opens up into a tray. When the breakfasts are completed, a district custodian picks up the rubbish.”
     The complaint adds: “Teachers can also continue to teach during the breakfast.” And, “The district has already noted a substantial reduction in problems associated with children not coming to school with an adequate breakfast.”
     In October, the Central Falls Teachers Union filed a grievance, complaining that teachers should not be required to participate in the program during instructional time. The superintendent and then the board denied the grievance.
     The union then filed a demand for arbitration.
     The district says the program is within the boundaries of the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, which states, “It is agreed that the Board retains the right to establish and enforce reasonable rules and personnel policies relating to the duties and responsibilities of teachers and their working conditions which are not inconsistent with this Agreement.”
     The district cites the well known, and obvious, problems of trying to teach young children who have not eaten breakfast. It adds that the children at the pilot school, Robertson Elementary, love the program. “As one child reported: ‘I like the food so much because six hours without food, that gives me a stomach ache.’ Another child personally thanked the superintendent for the program, because now he gets milk at breakfast, where he previously only received milk at lunch.”
     The estimated median household income in Central Falls is $28,983, compared to $55,701 for the entire state, according to City-data.com.
     The district has instituted the program at its other elementary schools. It seeks declaratory relief and an injunction. It is represented by Stephen Robinson with Robinson & Clapham.

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