My daughter Lily, who is 4, qualifies due to her hearing loss to receive resource speech therapy at our local school, Bellamy Elementary, twice a week. During the half hour she’s there, my other daughters (Logan (4) and Addison (2)) and I wait in the lobby. On April 28th, 2010 I was called into the principal’s office and asked not to breastfeed in the lobby. The principal said it was “not appropriate” for students, particularly boys in the school, to see me breastfeed.
I informed her that FL law protects my right to breastfeed in any location, public or private where I am otherwise authorized to be. She said it didn't matter what the law states because it was not appropriate. She said that she could try to schedule Lily's speech therapy sometime when there were not students at the school, or I could wait in a private location and nurse there. I informed her that I did not want to nurse in a private location. She asked me to leave her office.
Link to FL statute 383.015 concerning breastfeeding
My first response was to write a letter to the principal of Bellamy, Lynn Rattray, and to her supervisor, Lisa Yost. Here is a copy of the letter I wrote to Ms. Rattray:
Dear Ms. Rattray,
I am writing to express my concerns in regards to our meeting today where you asked me not to breastfeed my daughter in the lobby of your school. Although I mentioned it during our conversation, I’d like to again remind you that Florida State Law 383.015 protects my right to breastfeed my child in any location, public or private, where I am otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether my nipple is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.
I feel that your suggestion that I change the time I bring my daughter for resource speech therapy or to nurse in a private location violates my rights. Furthermore, your suggestions deeply offend me and I would like an apology.
There are numerous and well-documented short and long-term health risks to not breastfeeding. The World Health Organization states that mothers need support to make optimal breastfeeding practices a reality and that, “above all, mothers everywhere should have a sense of pride in breastfeeding.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that breastfeeding should be protected, promoted and supported and that, “throughout your community, everyone plays a role in fostering breastfeeding. When health care professionals, legislators, employers, business owners, and community and family members work together, their efforts can increase the number of women who are able to start breastfeeding and the length of time they continue to breastfeed.”
You mentioned that seeing a woman breastfeed is not appropriate for young boys. I feel that seeing a woman breastfeed is highly appropriate for young boys. Breastfeeding is the biological normal way to feed a child. By letting children see a mother breastfeeding, we are teaching them that this is normal and that feeding our young are what breasts are for. And in turn, the children with greater exposure to breastfeeding will be more likely to grow up to be breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding-supportive fathers. A larger breastfeeding population will benefit the whole society with less health care cost and less employee absenteeism (parents taking off work to care for sick children.) As a school principal, you are in the unique position to teach these values to children at a young age and make a lasting impression. You could even adapt a school curriculum to help make breastfeeding normal. Simple things such as teaching kindergartens that all mammals make milk for their babies and that humans are mammals can go a long way.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to your response.
On May 4th I received a phone call from Lisa Yost, Area Director Area II. Lisa informed me that she spoke to their lawyer and that I do have the right to breastfeed where I’m authorized to be, but she said that the principal can authorize where I can be in the school. She said they would like me to wait in a private area while Lily receives speech therapy. She said that there is no food and drink allowed in the lobby. I replied that if I had been feeding my child a bottle, no one would ask me to go somewhere else. Lisa said that they might have because there is no food or drink. I find this hard to believe. When I dropped my letter off to the principal there was a baby drinking form a bottle in the lobby.
If I had been asked to wait for Lily in a private area from the beginning this would be fine and I would have been happy to do so. I don’t think it’s fair to ask me to wait somewhere else BECAUSE of the fact that I am breastfeeding.
We decided to take our complaint one step further up the chain of command. On May 5, 2010 we emailed the superintendent and the school board members. Here is a copy of the email I sent:
I am writing to express my concerns in regards to a meeting I had on April 28th with Ms. Rattray, principal of Bellamy Elementary school. My daughter, Lily, receives resource speech therapy twice a week at Bellamy and while she is in her session, my two other daughters and I wait in the school lobby. On this particular afternoon shortly after we arrived, I was told that Ms. Rattray wanted to speak to me. When I entered her office she informed me that nursing my daughter wasn’t appropriate in the lobby and that she’d like to either arrange another time for my daughter to receive speech therapy, or for me to nurse my daughter in a private location.
I mentioned to Ms. Rattray that Florida Statute 383.015 protects my right to breastfeed my child in any location, public or private, where I am otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether my nipple is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding; however, Ms. Rattray insisted that it was not appropriate for the young boys in the school to see me breastfeed.
The following day I sent a letter to Ms. Rattray and to Lisa Yost expressing my concerns. On Tuesday May 4th, I spoke to Ms. Yost over the phone. Ms. Yost informed me that as principal, Ms. Rattray can authorize which areas of the school I am allowed to visit, and that in the future I will need to wait in a private location while my daughter receives speech therapy. Because I had been previously authorized to wait in the lobby, I feel that being asked to now wait in a private location is a violation of 383.015 and Title IX and discriminates against me because I breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is an important act of nurture that needs to be encouraged, protected and supported. I’m not sure how familiar you are with the importance of breastfeeding, but there are numerous and well-documented short and long-term health risks to not breastfeeding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that, “throughout your community, everyone plays a role in fostering breastfeeding. When health care professionals, legislators, employers, business owners, and community and family members work together, their efforts can increase the number of women who are able to start breastfeeding and the length of time they continue to breastfeed.”
My goal is to prevent other women from being asked not to breastfeed in any Hillsborough County School. I would appreciate a written and timely response. Thank you for your time.
A friend on mine had email Ms. Yost and she received this response on May 6:
I am in receipt of your email and responding to your concerns. The principal of the school is not denying any mother's right to breastfeed her child. It is the principal's right and responsibility to take care of the needs of all students, families and visitors at the school. As specified under the law, she is authorizing a convenient, comfortable location for mothers to wait for their children and breastfeed as necessary.
My husband replied to this response and the school board's lawyer wrote back. Here is a portion of what the lawyer said:
The Florida law does not, however, contain a right to breastfeed “wherever and whenever” a mother wishes. The law does not guarantee that a person will be allowed a place to breastfeed. It simply says that breastfeeding may occur wherever the “mother is otherwise authorized to be.” It does not provide that authorization nor undermine the power of the person in charge of the place where the feeding is to occur to give or withhold the authorization. If one were to read the statute as giving an unrestricted right to breastfeed, it would mean that a person in his or her own house could not ask a guest to perform the act in privacy. This statute could not impose such a requirement and no authority has said that it did.
It is therefore clear that a school principal may determine, based on factors including the place where the feeding will occur and the age and gender of students in that place, that breastfeeding is or is not appropriately conducted in a particular area at that particular time.
I do not agree with his interpretation of the law. I believe this is exactly the kind of thing the law was trying to protect against. Asking me to wait in a separate area is treating me different because I breastfeed. If they were asking me to wait in a separate area because of my race or my sexual orientation, there would be no question that it is discrimination. The preamble of the breastfeeding statute states:
WHEREAS, the social constraints of modern society militate against the choice of breastfeeding and lead new mothers with demanding time schedules to opt for formula feeding for reasons such as embarrassment and the fear of social ostracism or criminal prosecution, and
WHEREAS, the promotion of family values and infant health demand putting an end to the vicious cycle of embarrassment and ignorance that constricts women and men alike on the subject of breastfeeding and represents hostility to mothers and babies in our culture based on archaic and outdated moral taboo, and
WHEREAS, any genuine promotion of family values should encourage public acceptance of this most basic act of nurture between mother and baby, and no mother should be made to feel incriminated or socially ostracized for breastfeeding her baby
It is clear from the school's response that they feel breastfeeding is inappropriate. The lawyer stated, " It is therefore clear that a school principal may determine... that breastfeeding is or is not appropriately conducted..." I imagine the principal looking at two women breastfeeding and pointing to one and saying, "she's doing it appropriately," and pointing the other and saying, "she's doing it inappropriately."
Breastfeeding is normal and I feel I have been treated poorly. I am a mother of 4 and have been breastfeeding for about 6 years. I am a lactation counselor and very educated about breastfeeding. I have never been asked not to breastfeed or felt uncomfortable breastfeeding in public before. Even with all my knowledge and experience, the principal asking me to not breastfeed has caused me to feel uncomfortable every time I enter the school. Even if the result of my first letter was for them to apologize and say, “Go ahead and breastfeed!” I would still feel uncomfortable every time I go there. Asking me not to breastfeed has caused me to parent differently while at the school. Instead of following my instincts and looking to my child’s needs, I am finding myself hoping Addison does not ask to nurse while I’m at the school. I am trying to distract her from nursing. If she asks to nurse, I am still nursing her but I hate that they have caused me to change my behavior. If I were a first time mother new to breastfeeding, or even worse, struggling with breastfeeding, who knows how this would affected the nursing relationship with my child. I am not perusing this for my personal gain. We only have about 4 more weeks of speech therapy until summer and Lily will go to a different school next year. I’m doing this because I want to protect the right of women to breastfeed without harassment. I’m doing it to ensure that this does not happen to other women, and especially to my children when they are older. I'm doing this because I believe doing nothing is like agreeing I was acting inappropriately. My ultimate goal is for the school system to adopt an official policy where women are welcome to breastfeed on school property without interference. I thank everyone for their support.
If you would like to contact the school board, use this link. We're hoping that friendly reminders of the importance of encouraging, supporting and protecting breastfeeding may be helpful.