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Los Angeles Schools Overturn Ban on 'Junk Food'

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Increased labor costs and a sharp drop in federal support for school-meal programs led the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District last week to overturn its 10-year-old ban on selling "junk food" in school cafeterias.

The unanimous decision was prompted by a projected $13.7-million deficit in the district's cafeteria fund this year and the prospect of laying off or reducing the working hours of more than 100 cafeteria workers, district officials said.

A reduction in the amount and value of commodities donated by the federal government for school meals contributed to about half of the deficit, officials said.

Under the revised policy, secondary schools will be allowed to sell low-fat, low-salt potato chips and tortilla chips as a la carte items for lunch in the cafeteria. The new policy also permits elementary schools to offer ice cream, certain kinds of cookies, and fruit bars as a la carte lunch items. Such items are now offered in secondary schools.

Since 1980, the district has banned the sale of junk food and soft drinks in school cafeterias. But, since the early 1980's, student stores in the schools have sold these items as a way of paying for student activities.

Stephen Garcia, the district's food-services director, said the revised policy is expected to raise an estimated $1.46 million annually.

A proposal to allow the sale of soft drinks in school cafeterias, which the board will consider later this month, could raise an additional $2.5 million annually, Mr. Garcia said.

In 1985, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the school-lunch program, issued a rule that allowed participating schools to sell junk food during the school day. The department amended its regulations in the wake of a 1983 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that found that the usda had exceeded its authority in 1980 by banning junk-food sales until the last lunch period of the day. The legal action had been brought by the National Soft Drink Association. (See Education Week, June 5, 1985.)

At its meeting on April 30, the board also voted to increase the price of school meals by 10 cents for elementary-school students and by 25 cents for high-school students.

'Not a New Concept'

These increases will not affect the approximately 80 percent of district students whose family incomes qualify them for free- or reduced-price meals. The district serves about 600,000 school breakfasts and lunches each day.

Roberta Weintraub, the school board's president and the sponsor of the 1980 ban, said she backed the policy reversal in order to save jobs for cafeteria workers. She said that the ban was not very effective, because students were still able to purchase junk-food items at the student stores.

"It's a little hypocritical to say that your student stores can sell it and you can't," she said.

Eileen Gale Kugler, a spokesman for Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, a Washington-based advocacy group, said that most school districts allow students to purchase junk food.

"Making money off of kids' poor nutrition is not a new concept," she said. "It's sad that we are returning to it."

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