LAUSD Moves To Ban McDonald's Fundraisers, Develop Vegan Items

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(Photo by Felicia via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)

The Los Angeles Unified School District will introduce two resolutions on Tuesday that are intended to steer children towards healthier eats, reports the L.A. Times. One resolution before the Board of Education would ban school participation in "McTeacher’s Night" fundraisers that are hosted by McDonalds. Another resolution would instruct officials to develop a vegan option to be offered at every meal.

The resolutions, if passed, will further L.A. Unified's history of banning items that are deemed as junk food. As reported in an earlier Times article, the school board enacted a motion in 2002 to ban the sale of sodas and other beverages on campus. The next year it adopted an obesity-prevention motion that regulated the types of foods that could be sold. Also, the district adopted laws stipulating that food vendors must be at least 500 feet away from schools.

"McTeacher’s Night" is a fundraising event in which teachers and administrators from the school "work" behind the counter, selling items to students and parents. A portion of the proceeds go towards the school or a school-related club. According to the Times, the McDonalds corporation said it reviewed 10% of the restaurants it owns, and found that, from January 2013 through September 2015, the fundraisers raised more than $2.5 million through McTeacher’s Nights.

Critics point to several issues, the most obvious one being the availability of fatty foods. LAUSD said in a preamble to the resolutions that it “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." There's also a perceived conflict of interest, with detractors saying that kids and teachers are being used to push the brand. "One element about the McDonald's fundraiser is that they use teacher labor to promote the funding, so that's something that stands out," Jacque Robinson-Baisley, policy director at the Office of School Board President Steve Zimmer, told LAist.

These criticisms are not just local to Los Angeles; in 2015, teacher's unions from across the nation (including the California Teachers Association) signed a joint statement telling McDonald's to stop the fundraising option, according to the Washington Post. The letter stated:

It is wrong to enlist teachers to sell kids on a brand like McDonald’s whose core products are burgers, fries, and soda. Marketing junk food to children is a harmful practice. We are in the midst of the largest preventable health crisis in the U.S.—one that is spreading throughout the world, and that increasingly affects children. If this trend is not reversed, many children will be burdened with diet-related diseases like obesity and Type 2 diabetes, affecting their heath for life.

While the McTeacher's Night fundraiser was singled out in the resolution, it could also apply to other fast food campaigns. As iterated on the proposed resolution, the district has an existing sponsorship guideline in which the "District will not seek sponsorship from corporations that market, sell or produce products that may be harmful to children including...high fat and calorie foods and drinks."

The resolutions are backed by school board President Steve Zimmer, who will face Nick Melvoin in a runoff election in May. Melvoin told the Times that banning McDonald's would come as a detriment to school resources. “We shouldn’t handcuff the ability of schools to make their own decisions based on their particular circumstances,” Melvoin told the Times.

As for the other resolution promoting vegan options, if passed it will direct the superintendent to "implement a pilot meal program that ensures a daily vegan option is available and promoted at select schools beginning in August of 2017," according to the resolution's language.

The resolutions will be voted on at the next district meeting.

The situation falls into the a broader discussion of fast food, its prevalence in underserved communities, and its relation to childhood obesity. A 2012 study conducted at Rice University showed that children living in poorer neighborhoods are nearly 30% more likely to develop obesity when compared to children from more affluent neighborhoods. In 2015, a study suggested that a fast-food ban in South L.A. had no appreciable effects on obesity rates in children—in fact, the rates were climbing, reports The Atlantic. The reason, it's speculated, is because children are adept at finding other means of getting junk food even if a Burger King was no longer around.