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San Diego Unified Expands Halal School Lunch Program

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 1.15.40 PMA Crawford High School student orders a halal chili-lime chicken bowl on campus May 20, 2015. | Photo Credit: Megan Burks

By Megan Burks
Logo for K P B S San Diego

A San Diego Unified School District program thatbrought halal school lunches to Crawford High School has expanded. The meals meet Muslim religious guidelines and are now being served in five elementary schools: Darnall Charter School, Euclid Elementary, Hardy Elementary, Ibarra Elementary, Oak Park Elementary and Rolando Park Elementary.

“Now I think our dream is coming true,” Kafisa Mohamed said. “I am thankful for (Superintendent) Cindy Marten and her team.”

Mohamed has children in the district and has been advocating for halal school lunches with City Heights nonprofits United Women of East Africa and Mid-City CAN.

Many students in the neighborhood are the children of refugees, and are low-income and rely on free school lunches. But they haven’t always been able to eat them because of their religion.

“Children who do not eat well cannot learn well,” Mohamed said. “And we believe eating halal is healthy for everyone.”

The meals are similar to Kosher and served once a week alongside traditional cafeteria fare. Any student, regardless of religion, can eat them.

The district started with halal chicken – when the bird is slaughtered, the distributor drains its blood to make it halal. San Diego Unified Food Services Director Gary Petill said the meal costs a few cents more than typical cafeteria lunches, but the increased number of students lining up at the cafeteria has covered the extra cost.

Now the district is working out a deal with San Diego nonprofit Fish. Food. Feel Good. to add locally caught Yellowfin Tuna to the halal menu. The nonprofit works with local fishermen to supply charities and shelters with unwanted fresh fish.

And that’s not the only way San Diego Unified is serving refugee families.

Last month it budgeted $12,000 for interpreters who speak less common dialects from East Africa and Southeast Asia to help parents in meetings with teachers and administrators. Parents and nonprofit SAY San Diego urged school officials to consider the move as City Heights becomes more diverse. While the district has long offered Somali interpreters, it hasn’t had staff to help withSomali Bantus and other newer refugee groups who speak indigenous languages.

San Diego is not the first district to offer halal meals. Schools in Dearborn, Mich. began offering halal school lunches more than 10 years ago.

Educators argue it results in better education outcomes because children are less likely to be hungry during class. And Petill said San Diego Unified tailors lunches for other cultures besides Muslims.


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