Most people’s list of immediate needs in the city will necessarily focus on the city’s fiscal health – the budget, new employee contracts, and economic development including proposed innovation parks. Probably far down on the list of needs are children’s health issues.
Mayor Dan Wolk wants to change that, and has been pushing a healthy children’s initiative. As the Davis Enterprise reported on Friday, his list includes items like a smoking ban in multi-family complexes, safe routes to school, screening for developmental and behavioral challenges, stamping out bullying, and making low-fat milk the default beverage.
While we think the initiative and the focus on children’s health could be potentially beneficial, at the same time, we feel the list lacks a focus on some key issues. The other question that will come up rather quickly is whether the city, as opposed to the county or the school district, should take the lead on these issues.
As the Enterprise article notes, “The initiative was uncontroversial to most of the council.” But Councilmember Brett Lee noted that the smoking issue is likely to be more controversial, and I feel it has the potential to undermine the rest of the initiative.
Councilmember Lee told the paper he had concerns about its implementation. My biggest concern is what is not on the list.
The most surprising omission from the list is a way to deal with Davis’ growing Title One population. Davis tends to be seen as a white, upper middle class community, but the reality is more complex. About one-quarter of the schools’ population is in Title One status.
From a city perspective, the recent raid on the Royal Oak mobile home park, and the subsequent discussion at the two-by-two of the conditions at that park, highlights the nature of the vulnerable population, much of which has children in school.
A good percentage of the children that live in places like Royal Oak attend schools in Davis like Montgomery. There are children there whose only meals during the course of the day are the breakfast and lunch that they receive at school.
While Montgomery as a Title I school provides meals to children for breakfast and lunch, non-Title I schools provide only lunch. So when we moved to South Davis and moved our kid from Patwin (a Title I school) to Pioneer, he lost the ability to receive a breakfast because it is not offered. While that is not a huge deal in our house, it may be for many other kids.
Along with food is also access to health services. We had a long discussion about dental clinics after the council rejected fluoridation of water, and it seems that those efforts have since been dropped.
We also should be concerned about the issue of vaccination. Last year, Davis was reported to have a low child vaccination rate and, in some schools, the immunization rate is well below the 95 percent threshold needed to keep key diseases in check.
Going back to the issue of food, this is more of a school issue than a city issue, but I remember going to Patwin and being absolutely appalled by the food choices that were available for breakfast. My nephew, a few years ago, had a breakfast consisting of pastries, brownies, chocolate milk and other junk food. I was appalled and complained to the school and ultimately the school district – nothing happened.
I have since heard from teachers in schools like Montgomery that it’s a real problem because the kids, many of whom eat breakfast at school, load up on sugary food and then end up crashing mid-morning. This impacts not only their health but their education.
Yet when I raised the issue with some of the school board members, while they empathized, they failed to follow through.
It is great that we want to make low-fat milk or water the default beverage at restaurants, but how about putting pressure on the schools to get away from sugary breakfast food for low income kids?
We applaud the efforts of the Davis Phoenix Coalition, who will be honored by the Vanguard in two weeks, on the bullying front, but what the Davis Human Relations Commission learned two years ago goes much further than just traditional notions of bullying.
On December 1, 2012, residents from Davis and across the region attended a Davis Human Relations Commission hosted event called “Breaking the Silence of Racism.” For a summary of the event please see here.
In our commentary in September, we noted that there were unaddressed problems for children of color in our schools. The issues that children of color face in this community has long-remained unresolved.
A number of the public commenters complained about climate issues in the school, including racially-based bullying, disparities in discipline between races, treatment of mixed-race kids, and the lack of attention given to the issue of race and racism by school climate committees. Some parents of children of color or mixed race said that their children never were comfortable in Davis schools and ended up transferring.
In the two years since the event, we believe that minimal progress has been made.
Again, perhaps this is an issue that directly impacts our schools, but it has been an issue that the Davis Human Relations Commission has focused on.
We also are generally supportive of safe and accessible bike routes and walking routes to school, and hope that the city can continue to partner with the schools to encourage families to use modes of transportation other than simply the automobile.
So, at the end of the day, while Dan Wolk has given a lot of light to an important subject, I think he needs to go much further.
We need to get a real sense for those Title I kids – where do they live, how can the city help to work with other agencies to make sure their needs are met in terms of food, nutrition, health care, immunizations, tooth decay and other critical needs? Council needs to follow through on what it already promised on mobile dental vans and needs to look into health care and food needs.
Anti-bullying efforts are critical, but we need to look much harder at the issues of race relations and treatment of racial minorities and mixed-race children. Some of that will fall under the rubric of bullying, but it may extend beyond what we traditionally think of as bullying.
Finally, drop the anti-smoking initiative – it has the potential to cause controversy and derail the entire program.
Dan Wolk wrote, “While the city is rightly focused on many other key issues — such as fiscal stability, water issues, land-use planning and more — I don’t want to lose sight of other important efforts, specifically various health and safety concerns in our community.”
That is fine, but let’s go deeper and really address the core issues facing a large percentage of our children.
—David M. Greenwald reporting