Some teachers call it righting an injustice, but critics are crying hypocrisy. Either way, a bill to allow junk food in teachers’ lounge vending machines has pulses pounding in the Oregon legislature.
The measure, still pending in the state Senate as of late last week, was approved Feb. 26 by the Oregon House—despite objections from some lawmakers opposed to an exemption for teachers from a state law limiting the sale of junk food in public schools.
“If we pass this, we are setting up teachers for accusations of hypocrisy,” said state Rep. Scott Bruun, a Republican. Opponents say teachers should set an example for students by avoiding unhealthy snacks—even in the sanctity of the teachers’ lounge.
But supporters of the bill say teachers, as adults, should have the right to make their own decisions despite the 2007 law, which was aimed at combating childhood obesity by restricting the sale of soda, fruit juices, and high-calorie or high-fat snack foods in schools.
“It unintentionally treats us as children,” said Doreen Powers, a 4th grade teacher in Hillsboro, Ore., and a supporter of changing the law.
About a third of states have restrictions on such sales. A national health-advocacy group says some states with those bans exempted teachers’ lounges from the start, but Oregon is the only state to consider backtracking.
“Quite frankly, I’m surprised to see Oregon trying to weaken that law,” said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, based in Washington. “It’s not about treating teachers like kids. It’s about teachers being role models and creating a healthy environment for kids.”
During the House debate on the proposal, critics of the bill noted that teachers and students are permitted to bring junk food to school in their lunch boxes.
“There’s nothing in the current law that prevents teachers from sneaking in Twinkies and M&M’s in their lunches,” said Rep. Kim Thatcher, a Republican.
But Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said the legislature did not intend to limit what foods teachers can purchase during the school day. “It was about the food we offer to children,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of Education Week