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Council Demands Free Breakfast in Every Classroom

By Jill Colvin | August 23, 2012 8:26am

CITY HALL — The City Council passed twin resolutions Wednesday urging the city to begin serving free breakfast to all city kids in their classrooms to stave off hunger.

New York has one of the lowest school breakfast participation rates in the country, with less than 40 percent of low-income students taking advantage of the meals, which can include yogurt, fruits, juices and breakfast cereals served with low-fat milk.

“Children who eat breakfast pay more attention in the classroom and are more engaged in their work and— we know, factually —perform better academically,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at a press conference ahead of the vote.

All kids are currently eligible for free breakfasts in their cafeterias. But Quinn believes many students skip the meals because they arrive late to school, don’t want to miss out on socializing or feel stigmitized eating in the cafeteria, where classmates knows they're getting free meals.

The Bloomberg administration has expressed concern over the measure for fear it will lead children to eat breakfast twice — exacerbating childhood obesity.

"We want to make sure that no child is hungry and every child has a healthy breakfast, which is why we have made free breakfast available to each of our 1.1 million students, regardless of income," said Lauren Passalacqua, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

"At the same time obesity is epidemic nationwide, and 40 percent of the city's public school children are either overweight or obese, so we are appropriately concerned in making sure that our work to solve one problem doesn't inadvertently exacerbate the other," she said.

Nearly 400 schools currently participate in an optional "Breakfast in the Classroom" program, the city said.

A Health Department study found that many kids were double-dipping, enjoying one breakfast at home and another at school.

But Quinn criticized the study as “flawed,” saying it counted a child having a glass of juice at home and then a yogurt at school as two separate meals.

The council also passed legislation Wednesday that will force the city to study the impacts of extreme weather, including severe heat, rain storms and coastal flooding, to help better prepare the city for the next Hurricane Irene.

“What we’re really being hit with is these very extreme weather events, like the hurricane last year," said Queens City Councilman James Gennaro, who said so-called 20-year storms now seem to happen "pretty much happen every year."