WEST ORANGE, NJ — Washington and Hazel Avenue Elementary Schools in West Orange will be implementing the Breakfast After The Bell (BATB) program after Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new legislation on May 30 requiring schools to serve breakfast if 70 percent or more of the school’s student population is considered eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals. The program will be introduced on Sept. 12, and the first hot breakfast will be served on Sept. 26.

The bill, which was originally introduced by State Senators Teresa Ruiz and Shirley Turner, indicates that while the current law requires a breakfast program when 20 percent of the student population is enrolled in the free/reduced-priced meal plan, many students are not being reached.

A report published by the New Jersey Anti-Hunger coalition found that of the 539,576 students in New Jersey who were eligible for the free/reduced-priced meals, only 228,525 students received free/reduced-priced breakfast. BATB aims to increase the number of students eating breakfast by merging it with the school day.

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West Orange Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Rutzky gave a presentation during last week’s board of education meeting that highlighted the importance of breakfast, including some benefits such as increased attendance, fewer visits to the nurse’s office, and higher test scores.

Logistically, breakfast after the start of class will be served during homeroom, where the cafeteria staff will bring insulated bags to each room. Teachers will then place the breakfast items on a desk in the front or the side of the room.

Rutzky explained that instructors will maintain a checklist marking whether or not a student ate breakfast. Any meals that are not served will be placed back into the insulated bag with the checklist and picked up by cafeteria staff.

Between 9:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., custodians will retrieve any garbage from the classrooms. Based on her experiences implementing the program in Long Branch, West Orange’s new food manager noted that it should take about two weeks to determine how much breakfast is needed.

Breakfast will also be made available to all students prior to the start of class, but students are invited to take advantage of either or both serving times. It was further noted that the parent of any child who eats twice will be contacted by school officials, which was a cause of concern for board member Sandra Mordecai.

Mordecai stated that some children might be eating twice because they need the extra nourishment, but Rutzky clarified that contacting parents and children is only meant as a precautionary action and to ensure that parents are aware. No child will ever be turned away from a meal, he added, and snacks will also be available to all children. 

Menu items included in the BATB program consists of fresh fruit cups, cereal, graham crackers, milk (1 percent or skim), juice, cereal and others.

In addition to the healthy aspects of the program, the board noted that introducing the BATB program will also bring extra revenue into the West Orange school district from federal money that will dispersed for every meal served to a child in the free/reduced-price meal program. The money provided is through the school breakfast program, which “provides cash assistance to states to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service.

According to Rutzky, Washington Elementary will bring in a net total of $16,477, while Hazel Elementary will have a net total of $-8,139, bringing the total revenue to $8,338. The figures for the revenue is based off last year’s free/reduced numbers, he said.

According to a similar bill passed in Massachusetts, when participation levels reach 80 percent or higher, approximately $30 million in reimbursements is made available. 

Mordecai questioned how the board should handle district students who fail to reach the 70 percent mark with the free/reduced-priced meal program but still need the program. It was explained that legally, Washington Elementary is currently the only school that would require the BATB program. However, Rutzky said he hopes to extend the opportunity for students to “eat after the bell” to the entire district.

In addition, he said that the money received from the federal government for the breakfast program must only be used for food-service purposes, such as providing a BATB program for other schools within the district.

Rutzky has recently made the application for the free/reduced-price meal plan available online in order to reach more families in need. Board Vice President Mark Robertson questioned whether households with limited Internet access limited would be able to take advantage, but Business Administrator John Calavano informed the board that an application was also mailed to every household as an alternative.

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