State officials initiate rule on school nutrition

Officials: regulations could stifle school fundraisers

JONESBORO — State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge and the State Board of Education have started the rule-making process to amend the state board rule to comply with the federal Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.

State officials recently reported their response to the federal school nutrition regulations on which local officials have voiced concerns. They are particularly worried about its possible affects on school fundraising.

The proposed amended rule will include provisions that require districts to have policies on the sale of competitive foods during school and school-related activities such as fundraisers.

Officials said the rule will also contain new definitions for “competitive foods,” school campus and school day. It will allow schools to hold 30 food-related fundraisers per school each year that do not meet the nutrition standards established by federal law.

The state department of education plans to develop a procedure for districts to obtain a temporary exemption from the state board of education on the approved fundraiser limit of 30 on a case-by-case basis.

The rule would affect school boards and districts throughout the state.

It is playing out next door in Henry County.

Henry’s school board chairwoman Dr. Pam Nutt said she was pleased with the state’s efforts to keep the fundraising option available to local schools.

“I like the idea of flexibility,” said Nutt. “The schools are strapped now. This is a way to help pay for field trips that students may not be able to pay for.”

The local school board meet July 16, and approved an amended nutrition policy that places limits on the kinds of foods that can be sold on school campuses. Nutt said the Vending Machines Policy EED, originally adopted in November 1984, was changed to comply with those USDA ‘Smart Snacks in School’ nutrition standards.

Nutt said she believes the federal regulations, while based in good intentions and outcomes to combat childhood obesity through school cafeterias, are misdirected when it comes to having authority over all foods sold on campus. Such is the case in school fundraising, i.e. bake sales, cookie sales and ice cream sales.

“It’s not the school food that’s making them (students) fat,” she said. “It’s lack of exercise.”

Exercise, too, has been a growing issue in K-12 education in recent years.

Nutt said the demands for more rigor in the classroom has crowded out schools’ ability to allot much seat time for physical education.

“There’s not enough time to do music and P.E., or music and art,” she said.

Physical education, music and fine arts classes are offered once a week at schools in Henry as so-called “specials” courses.

Nutt said teachers have had to find ways to keep students physically active and engaged by, for example, having classes outdoors occasionally or encouraging physical activity during recess.

On the federal nutrition regulations, State Board of Education Chairwoman Helen Rice and Barge released a statement blasting the federal law.

“These new federal guidelines limiting food and beverage fundraisers are an absolute overreach of the federal government,” the statement read. “Tough economic times have translated into fewer resources and these fundraisers allow our schools to raise a considerable amount of money for very worthwhile education programs.

“While we are concerned about the obesity epidemic, limiting food and beverage fundraisers at schools and school-related events is not the solution to solving it,” it continued. “We have faith in our local schools to make good decisions on behalf of children. That is why we have initiated this rule that gives schools the maximum flexibility in determining how many food and beverage fundraisers they choose to hold. We welcome the public’s feedback during this review period.”

State officials welcome feedback via email at policy@doe.k12.ga.us.