School board discusses possible changes in nutrition policy

Student representative objects to elimination of vending machines

February 24, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

The student representative on the Carroll County school board pressed his point, and in doing so drew a proverbial line in the sand: If school officials decide to stop selling ice cream and other snacks in schools, they will have to face some angry students.

"Vending machines are our privilege," said Andy McEvoy, a senior at Century High School in Eldersburg. "When you start taking them away, you're going to get arguments."

McEvoy made the comments yesterday at a board work session where officials were discussing what kinds of changes the district will have to make to meet state school nutrition guidelines as well as federal regulations connected with the National School Lunch Program.

For the past year, Carroll school officials have been examining how to encourage healthful eating habits and physical activities among students. A committee, led by Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration, has been reviewing the district's policy on healthy schools.

As part of his committee's presentation yesterday, Guthrie displayed a calculation of how much ice cream the school system sells in a typical year.

According to Guthrie's findings, the school system sold 507,480 ice cream treats, for an average of 17 per student per year.

Students bought 131,856 eclair bars, exceeding all other ice cream sales, Guthrie said. The school system sold 81,600 fudge bars, 30,000 ice cream bars and 43,524 ice cream sandwiches.

His group met with board members to discuss new state and federal nutrition and wellness policy requirements as well as to review a draft of a proposed county policy that would bring the school system into compliance.

Guthrie suggested modifying the district's policy - adopted in 1995 - rather than rewriting it. The amended policy would include guidelines on what kinds of foods and beverages will be allowed to be sold in schools and would spell out efforts to improve education about healthful eating and physical activity.

The state Board of Education approved nutrition standards this week designed to reduce the amount of junk food students eat at school. The standards are optional and apply only to elementary and middle schools. But state school officials expect that all 24 districts will adopt them or stricter ones.

Under the new standards, schools would eliminate snacks with more than 9 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat or 15 grams of sugar. Also, vending machines that sell foods of "minimal nutritional value" - mainly soda and candy - would be turned off until after school hours.

School officials discussed whether to extend the county's policy to cover foods sold during any school activity, even those after school.

McEvoy cautioned them against doing so, stressing that many booster clubs raise funds by selling candy and other snacks to students during basketball games and other activities.

"Food is our currency," he said. "If you take away all that flexibility, you'll run into complications."

Board member Laura K. Rhodes agreed that school officials could find themselves on shaky ground if they attempt to cast too broad a net with the policy.

"I'm less worried about the controllable school things, like vending machines," she said. "But like Andy said, there are intangibles. ... How many teachers hand out candy as incentives [for student performance]? How far are our tentacles going to go, and when do we become the food police?"

Guthrie assured the board that the policy would apply only to those food items that are sold to students.

"As drafted now, the policy would regulate what is sold in vending machines and what is sold a la carte during school lunches," he said after the meeting.

The discussion of whether the policy would be watered down with exemptions took on a lighthearted tone when McEvoy implored school officials not to take away all of the snacks, especially ice cream - an item that under state guidelines would not be sold at schools.

"My generation is a very health-conscious group of students," McEvoy said. "If you put a salad in front of us ... you're not going to see [cafeteria food sales] go down. ... As long as it's not mystery meat, kids are going to keep buying it."

Most of the officials at the meeting agreed that allowing an exemption for ice cream seemed palatable.

"I'm OK with keeping ice cream as long as we're looking at" healthful alternatives, Rhodes said.

Eulalia Muschik, the district's supervisor of food services, said she expects to see more options on the market, she's just not sure when.

"Companies are falling all over themselves to meet these guidelines" so their products aren't excluded from schools, Muschik said. "Some ways they are doing that is by reducing serving size."

Guthrie said the committee expects to spend the next several months gathering opinions about the district's policy from students, staff, parents and the community. The school board must adopt its policy by January, he said.

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