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Nursing mom asked to stop

A teacher and principal request no breast-feeding at school; the law's on mom's side.

By Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008


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ST. PETERSBURG - Alicia Norris was enjoying lunch with her daughter while visiting her at Rio Vista Elementary School, and thought nothing of the fact that she was nursing her 19-month-old son Tahoma while sitting at a picnic table outside.

That is, until a teacher approached her and told her she could not breast-feed her baby on school property.

"Most people don't even notice that you're nursing. There were other children walking by on the sidewalk and nobody even looked at me. There was no gawking or anything," said Norris, who has two children attending Rio Vista Elementary.

"I have never been asked to stop," she said. "I think this shows a lack of education in an educational environment." She told the teacher she did not care to discuss it in front of her older child, and continued.

Later the same day, she said, school principal Wayne Whitney approached - she was not nursing at the time - and again asked her not to breast-feed at the school.

As Norris sees it, a school of all places should be family friendly and this one seemed anything but. "I felt degraded," she said of the Oct. 29 incident. "I've been nursing three children for nine years and I've never felt like that before."

Florida law states that women can breast-feed anywhere in public or private as long as they are in that place legally.

"I do hear about incidents like this quite a bit," said Heidi Buck, a local leader of La Leche League, a support group for nursing mothers. "I don't think it happens as much as it used to but it's still not uncommon. It goes back to the old way of thinking that breasts are sexual things.

"But breast-feeding is not a sexual thing. It's a natural means of feeding and nurturing your child."

Norris fired off a letter to Pinellas County school superintendent Clayton Wilcox, citing the Florida law.

The statute states: "A mother may breast-feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breast-feeding."

Principal Whitney later looked into Florida law on breast-feeding, and found he was off-base, said Pinellas School Board spokeswoman Andrea Zahn. He has since told staff members that breast-feeding is allowed at school.

"We don't have a specific School Board policy but we certainly conform to the state statutes," she added.

"A couple teachers expressed their concerns," said Whitney. "I asked her not to do it in front of small children."

Norris said she has been back to Rio Vista and nursed her son about four times since the incident, but has chosen to do so at a more secluded table behind the kindergarten playground.

"I feel very uncomfortable around the principal and the other teacher who approached me," she said. "I felt like they were looking at me like I was doing something wrong or dirty."

Norris said she just wants to make sure people at the school and elsewhere know the rules. "I don't need an apology," she said.

She said Whitney has since called to acknowledge that she could breast-feed on the campus.

"It would just be nice if they could say we were mistaken and we hope you don't feel uncomfortable here," she said. "I'm not going to let somebody tell me that I'm not going to feed my baby."

[Last modified February 19, 2008, 16:22:59]


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