Candy or carrot sticks? Proposed school snack-food ban debated


some see fiscal impact

Education Beat

December 11, 2005|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV

Howard County residents weighed in on the battle of the bulge last week when the Board of Education heard two hours of testimony about a proposed nutrition plan that would essentially ban high-sugar, high-fat snack foods in vending machines and at school functions.

About 30 people testified Thursday night and shared concerns ranging from childhood obesity issues connected to a less restrictive policy to the potential revenue loss linked to the proposed plan - which has been called one of the most strict in the country.

An overwhelming majority - including PTA members, booster club members and parents of students involved in extracurricular activities - objected to parts or most of the proposal.

"The new proposed wellness policy is far reaching in its efforts to dictate what food items can and cannot be sold/served in our schools and at our extracurricular activities," said Sue Tompkins, a parent of children at Mount Hebron and Marriotts Ridge high schools and Mount View Middle School. "This policy affects not only our students, but our faculty, PTSAs, boosters groups, clubs and organizations, athletic teams - everyone."

Some called the proposal micromanagement.

"It's inappropriate for the Board of Education to step in and decide what snack and drink items we as parent volunteers can serve our own children," said Vinnie Javier, president of Lions Pride, the Howard High School athletics booster organization.

But others argued that the policy is needed.

Gail Goldstein, mother of two Worthington Elementary School pupils, welcomed the proposed changes and was disappointed to hear many parents argue about the possible financial losses the restrictions could cause.

"Then we want to know why we have epidemic health problems," Goldstein said. "It's absolutely archaic."

The board is expected to vote on the issue Jan. 12.

"It's a very polarized community," Joshua Kaufman, the school board chairman, said after the hearing. "It makes our job harder."

Maryland school systems have until January to create formal guidelines for food that is sold outside of breakfast and lunch, which must meet state nutritional standards.

Local districts can implement rules that are more strict than the state's guidelines, which say, for example, that a la carte items can contain no more than 9 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 15 grams of sugar per serving.

Howard's proposed guidelines differ from those of most school districts because they extend beyond the school day to events such as football games and school plays.

Dean Kreh, president of the Mount Hebron boosters, said 80 percent of the concession items sold at after school events would be eliminated under the proposed policy.

"This would eliminate the substantial part of our concession funds," said Kreh. The concession stand at Mount Hebron has a budget of $9,000 this year. "As much as you would like them to, the kids will simply not come to buy granola bars, fruit and juice."

Kreh said students will instead go to convenience stores and purchase food and beverages, thus bypassing the rules and costing the schools revenue.

"A large part of our customers are adult spectators," Kreh said. "This policy would be restricting their choices, too."

Jean Daniello, a parent at Wilde Lake High School, said she completely supports the proposed policy and said it should extend to all school events.

"If we don't [make changes], we are going to have a group of kids die before we do," said Daniello, who said she is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.

Tompkins said the proposed policy would disrupt annual events such as Mount View Middle School's Twin Day - during which students dress alike and receive Twin Pops Popsicles.

"Under the new wellness policy to stay with our twins theme we would have to serve two carrot sticks instead," Tompkins said. "Rah-rah!"

Voting rights

The committee working out the sticking points in allowing voting rights for the student member of the school board met last week and set up a timeline and goals for achieving suffrage in 2007.

The 10-member committee - a mix of students, administrators and education advocates - met Wednesday night for two hours and discussed the details of the student-member election process. They include costs; who can vote for the student member; and the voting rights to be given to the student member.

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done," said Roger Plunkett, business, community, government relation officer for the school system.

Jeff Lasser, the board's student member, said that the committee is working hard to make a presentation to the board in April.

"We're reviewing the entire policy," Lasser said.

Supporters of student-member voting rights had hoped that legislation would be introduced as early as next month to ensure that the student member could vote when the board expands from five to seven members next December.

But a two-hour board meeting last month resulted in the delay and the formation of the committee.

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