GREELEY — When Tammy Garcia enrolled her children in Frontier Academy Charter School, she never thought school choice would extend to what her daughter could and could not eat.
Over the past two years, the fifth-grader has had to snack on what teachers at the school deem appropriate or wait until lunch, which isn’t until nearly five hours after school starts.
Garcia is disappointed students are restricted in what they can bring to school for snacks. And after spending more than a year trying to quietly work things out with the school, it finally became too much.
Last week Garcia started an online petition asking the school to drop the policy.
As of Tuesday, the petition had 66 signatures. There are 239 students in grades four and five.
Frontier Academy was one of the first charter schools to open in Colorado in the 1990s. The school was started as a K-5 by a group of parents who wanted more academics and less arts and athletics in their children’s daily schedule. Over the years, the school has expanded to K-12.
Garcia enrolled her oldest child in the school for many of the same reasons nine years ago. She said parental involvement expectations are high. Parents are consulted for most things that the school incorporates, and parents are expected to put in four hours of volunteer work per month or pay $270 a year in lieu of that time.
She doesn’t understand why parents are being ignored now, but she said the school’s culture and focus has changed over the last few years. She sees the snack requirement in fourth and fifth grades as a symptom of that change.
“I had to come forward,” Garcia said. “I’m trying to preserve the culture of the school. Parking lot gossip talk is not productive. If you have an issue, you need to talk about it so we can fix it. When you love the school and you love the teachers it’s hard to come forward, but they have to respect that I have values of my own.”
Garcia’s concerns center around a snack policy that affects just fourth and fifth graders in the school.
Prinicipal Bradford Every said the snack restrictions are not a policy per se, but rather a grade-level expectation.
K-3 students aren’t affected because they don’t change rooms and have designated snacking periods. Fourth- and fifth-graders snack during instruction time, and that’s where the debate starts.
The school’s fourth- and fifth-grade teachers got together and came up with a list of approved snacks. Over the years that list has narrowed. This year it’s down to only four items: beef jerky, granola bars, dried fruit, or string cheese.
It’s not the items Garcia disagrees with—it’s the fact there is a list, something she said never existed during the previous administration when her older son was in the same grades.
Principal Every said this is his third year at the helm of Frontier Academy. He believes the snack restrictions have been in place for a long time, but wasn’t sure exactly how long.
Garcia says she has been given three different reasons for the restrictions:
- To keep the school’s Chrome Notebooks clean. However, Garcia points to another required document that must be signed by parents and students that outlines there should be no eating or drinking — period — around the notebooks.
- The carpet in the teachers’ rooms was new and the teachers had not had new carpet in years.
- Parents were sending unhealthy snacks to school. Garcia argues that what parents feed their children — healthy or not — is not the decision of the school.
“I find it extreme,” she said in an email to the school. “I find none of (the reasons) as important as the right to parent my own child. Although it may seem like a simple issue to your team, it is not perceived as such in the community.”
Although she shared the string of emails with Complete Colorado, she was uncomfortable publishing them because she said this is not about the teachers themselves, and she does not want it to be misconstrued. She only wants to get enough parental support to force the school to make changes.
The school says it’s about logistics. “Each grade level puts together a handbook that looks slightly different,” Principal Every said. “The fifth-grade teachers outlined snacks they believed are quick, clean, and dry.”
Garcia said the restrictions have changed the atmosphere at the school. Parents and teachers are already at odds with each other and school has only been in session a couple of weeks. And students feel intimidated by their teachers.
Garcia said the teachers have discussions daily with students about not deviating from the approved snack list. She wants the school to respect parent choice and allow students to bring what their family sees as appropriate.
A teacher told Garcia in an email exchange that she would be happy to meet with Garcia to get additional food ideas, but made no promises they would be instituted. In fact, a suggestion of carrots from another parent was refused because carrots were too wet, Garcia said.
She decided not to meet with teachers or administration because she said she’s already done everything possible to solve the problem, including attending all the School Accountability Committee meetings over the summer.
“I have been to hours of meetings,” she said. “I reached out to the board, and the board said that the snack procedure is left to the administration to determine.”
Garcia said it was made clear to her that there were no options. Last year, Garcia was told that students could choose from the snack list or choose no snack at all, and Principal Every reinforced that practice this school year in an email in which he said he would not drop the snack policy.
“Parents can choose to add any snack they want into their child’s lunch, just not during the 5th grade snack time,” Principal Every said in the string. “Snack during class time is an option and if parents cannot identify an option that suits their needs/wants, they still have the option of not sending a snack.”
Principal Every told Complete Colorado the restrictions are designed to make sure that snacks are quick and easy, but also to keep the classrooms clean. He said he is not sure what would happen if a parent refused to follow the expectation and send snacks outside the list of four.
“To the best of my knowledge, no student has been written up for that,” he said. “I don’t think it’s been an issue.”
But Garcia says her daughter was pressured to eat a granola bar the teacher gave her instead of the grapes and apple slices Garcia sent. And there were many disagreements at home because the girl worried she would get in trouble at school if she didn’t bring what she was supposed to.
“It put my daughter in a position where she was having to go against the wishes of her parents, and that’s not right,” Garcia said. “I do not agree that the school should be mandating what I choose to feed my child.”