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Schools: Nutrition policy renews concerns about fundraising with food
By Charles Swenson
The days of taking an apple to the teacher are over. Unless she is looking hungry.
A nutrition policy adopted by the Georgetown County School Board this year prohibits using food as a reward. The policy incorporates the federal Smart Snack standards that have changed cafeteria menus along with fundraising strategies since they took effect in 2014. But the district policy goes farther, parents say, raising doubts about the future of classroom pizza parties and birthday cupcakes.
School board members rolled their eyes when the section about food as rewards was presented in May. “I know,” said Lindsay Anne Thompson, the district’s in-house attorney, who presented it along with Brent Streett, the food services director. The goal is to separate the idea of food as nutrition from food as a reward, Thompson explained.
The policy isn’t more restrictive than the federal standards, Streett said in an interview before students returned to class last week. The district has to follow those standards or face fines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the number of food-related fundraising events schools are allowed has been reduced since the Smart Snack standards were introduced. This year, schools are allowed 30 one-day fundraisers. Last year, they were allowed 30 two-day fundraisers.
“You can be compliant. You just have to be creative,” Streett said. He plans to meet with principals at the district’s 18 schools to explain the policy and offer ideas that the principals can share with their PTAs and PTOs.
Volunteers have complained that they were caught unaware by the policy change and are concerned about the impact on fundraising. “Parents are caught unaware of a lot of things if they don’t follow the board meetings,” said Tim Carnahan, principal at Waccamaw Intermediate School. He got an update on the policy at a principals’ meeting, but has not met with Streett individually. “Hopefully, I’ll get more clarification,” he said.
School Board Member Richard Kerr has received complaints about the restriction on fundraising. He doesn’t believe the district policy is more restrictive that the federal standards. “I’ve always been concerned when we start to dictate nutrition,” he said. “Kids don’t respond well to that. They’re going to eat what they want to eat.”
Waccamaw Intermediate no longer relies on food sales for fundraising. It’s biggest fundraiser is a fall “color run.” But the school also wants to raise additional funds to develop programs in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM skills. One idea is to start selling plants raised in the school garden. “We’re trying to be creative,” Carnahan said.
Streett pointed out that neither the policy nor the Smart Snack standards prevent selling food to raise money. It just can’t be sold on campus during the school day, which the federal standards define as the period from midnight to 30 minutes after dismissal.
“Selling food to kids is just a quick, easy way to get a little money, but it’s on the way out,” Carnahan said. “The state gave us three years to prepare for it.” He is more concerned about the impact of the district policy on class parties. “Those are fun things for the kids, and you don’t want to take all the fun out of school,” Carnahan said.
The policy doesn’t ban those activities. It states that the district will “establish standards for foods made available, but not sold, during the school day on school campuses.” Carnahan hopes those standards won’t restrict the school’s Immigration Fair and Greek and Roman Festival, social studies projects that include foods representing different cultures. “There’s a lot of salad and vegetables at [the festival], which is probably OK,” he said.
Coastal Montessori Charter School isn’t bound by the district policy, but it used the change to eliminate sweets from classroom activities. In the past, teachers had shifted to snacks brought in by parents to the cafeteria. “There are other ways to celebrate beside cupcakes,” said Nathalie Hunt, the school director.
The Smart Snack standards, which do apply to the charter school, will cut into fundraising for its Montessori Model United Nations program, which takes students to New York. It had relied on pizza sales. The school is now looking at off-campus sales and non-food sales, Hunt said.
The policy also calls for nutrition education for students and parent groups and requires the district to support “staff wellness.” It addresses physical education, too. Although state law and curriculum standards set the minimum amount of physical education, the policy requires schools to plan ways for students to do more physical activities. It also seeks to promote walking and biking to school.
“We want our kids to be healthy, too,” Carnahan said. “There are some good things in the policy.”
Still, he said, “I can’t imagine not having a Halloween party.”
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