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L.A. Unified schools violate junk food ban

May 09, 2009|Mary MacVean

An audit of L.A. Unified schools found many campuses in violation of anti-junk food policies and said that some administrators were ignorant of district efforts to restrict students' access to unhealthful foods such as soda, chips and candy.

Auditors from the L.A. Unified inspector general's office visited 70 schools at all grade levels and "found that most schools were not in compliance" with district food and beverage sale policies.

The report also stated that a number of administrators and other school officials said that they were unaware of the food policies or of what to do about violations.

"Communication of LAUSD policies on healthy beverages sales and obesity prevention motions was inadequate," the audit said. "In addition, school administrators did not receive adequate training."

The audit was conducted from September 2008 to January 2009 and is scheduled for release Monday.

Investigators found cases in which street vendors sold food near schools in violation of municipal laws and said school administrators failed to notify school police or local authorities. In other cases, school stores and vending machines sold unapproved foods and drinks. The auditors also cited unauthorized food sales to raise money by student clubs and by parent groups.

Such fundraising activities were not properly documented in part because administrators did not understand the policies, the audit said.

Andrea Giancoli, school nutrition coordinator in board member Marlene Canter's office, said that in addition to increasing awareness of the policies, there must be an overhaul of fundraising. She said that she is sympathetic to the need to raise money but that there must be other ways to raise money besides selling unhealthful food to children.

The audit did not list which schools were visited but said they were randomly selected: 20 elementary, 31 middle and 19 high schools. And Alfred Rodas, the deputy inspector general in charge of the audit, said the findings were representative of the district.

Parents were also unaware of the school board's efforts, the audit said. To remedy that, the district said it would include the policies in principal and parent-student handbooks for 2009-10, as well as other administrator information and training programs. Eighteen schools did not even have a copy of the policy on file, the audit said.

Rodas said the findings left him "a little bit dismayed," because two audits several years ago touched on some of the same issues. He said it's not enough to have a policy; everyone has to know about it, and compliance has to be monitored.

The school board enacted a motion in 2002 to ban the sale of sodas and some other beverages. The next year it adopted an obesity prevention motion that governed what foods could be sold on campus. Los Angeles and many other municipalities in L.A. Unified have laws banning food vendors from working within certain distances from schools -- 500 feet in Los Angeles, for example.

Of the 70 schools visited, 30 had vendors using pushcarts, trucks or bicycles to sell such food as ice cream, chips, soda and candy. Sixty-eight of the 70 administrators did not have written policies on what to do about such vendors, the audit said.

Those vendors, the audit said, expose children to health risks such as obesity, diabetes and food-borne illnesses, and students had a higher risk of being hit by cars as they patronized such vendors.

In 11 schools, vending machines carried food that is not approved, including brownies and fruit drinks.

School district officials responding to the findings said a centralized agreement will be pursued to make sure that only approved foods are stocked.


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