A school in Mandeville, Louisiana might be losing a student after a mother's request to pack breast milk in her daughter's lunch box resulted in a war of words between the administration and the parents of a child enrolled for school this fall. The girl was planning to bring breast milk as a snack, but under the school's policy, the request was rejected. De-nied! This story would have us hollering "cut the cord" if, say, the child were in tenth grade or maybe even Kindergarten. But this student happens to be enrolled in a new class offered by St. Michael's Episcopal Education Center called Young Learners that admits students as young as 18 months. What, no breast milk before recess?
"I will never allow breast milk to be brought into this school," said the director, in spite of the fact the child's pediatrician recommended extended breastfeeding due to the student's weight gain issues (she had been a preemie at birth), reflux, food intolerances and developmental delays. On the home page of school's website, it states the philosophy of St. Michael's Episcopal Education Center "is designed to create an environment of trust where children can grow socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually". Oh ho ho! A premie baby ordered by her doctor to drink breast milk to combat growth issues seems to be exactly what the school purports to be about. Record scratch!
This problem of schools beginning to cater to younger students and the ensuing issues is a new phenemon. With the ever-outdoing of competitive parenting, failing public schools and mounting societal expectations, private schools are offering classes for younger and younger children to get a start to their education. Schools that typically cater to the preschool set (three to five-year-olds) are now offering classes to kids as young as one year. What are normally are non-issues with students become very big deals when you have younger students to consider. After all, who brings breast milk to Kindergarten? What school-aged children can't go to the bathroom by themselves? (Anyone who reads this blog knows about my tribulations sending my potty-trained two-year-old to a school accustomed to dealing with more deft students). Issues of bathroom help and breast milk snacks catch schools off guard of the potential hazards of this new, younger student body whose ages edge closer to birth with each passing year.
Kindergarten, typically beginning at age five, is still only mandatory in 43 states. Considering almost half of Louisiana's schools received a failing grade last year, it is obvious there is a need in the community for early education. And the south is not the only problem. Only 11% of Chicago Public School eleventh graders meet college readiness benchmarks in science.
Parents, spooked by stringent admission requirements of private schools, and/or the entrance standards of the best public magnate schools, are starting their children's formal education earlier and earlier. This coincides with a time of renewed lactation awareness, when breastfeeding is being not only encouraged, but stretching longer into childhood. (the World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding until age two.) The result is that schools are dealing with new, bizarre problems like breastfeeding students.
Responses from administrations shoot from the gut, framed by a reference point of dealing with older students. ("No, you can't bring breastmilk! That's disgusting! Why does the gender of the teacher matter, you sexist!"). But It doesn't mean school administrators should brush off the parents or be let off the hook for not catering the special needs of younger kids.
Maybe before cashing in on the lucrative market of 2012 uber-parents, schools should think twice about how their big kid policies apply to the wee set. After all, the student body of tomorrow is literally a bunch of fetuses right now. Placenta shakes at snack time, anyone?