Fighting battle of the bulge

Stung by criticism, school board plans to revise nutrition policy

February 03, 2006|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV,SUN REPORTER

Stung by criticism from parents about a plan that would ban fatty, sugary snacks at after-school concession stands, the school board is planning to revise its proposed nutrition and wellness policy, deemed one of the most strict in the country.

Several booster club members and parents of students in other after-school activities had complained that the policy - being drafted to meet a state mandate - would hurt fundraising, sending school officials back to the drawing board.

"They were concerned that we went a little too far by regulating what is sold after the school day is over," Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, said of the public response.

"We gave it our best shot," said Mary Klatko, administrator of food and nutrition service and a member of the committee that crafted the initial proposal. "We're flexible."

Brown and other members of the four-person committee revising the policy are expected to have a new draft completed by Feb. 28.

Maryland school systems had until last month to create formal guidelines for food that is sold outside of breakfast and lunch, which must meet state nutritional standards. Howard County worked out an agreement with the state and submitted its current nutrition policy on the condition that modifications would be made this spring.

Local districts had the option of imposing rules more strict than the state's guidelines, which say 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. The guidelines would limit the sales of many candies and high-fat snack foods, such as chips.

Howard County's proposed guidelines went further, extending restrictions beyond the school day to events such as football games and school plays - and setting off a debate.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health and nutrition advocacy group based in Washington, praised Howard County's proposed policy and called it a good start. Some county parents agreed and noted obesity and other health-related issues as reasons for a strict policy.

Micromanagement

But many parents called the proposal micromanagement and suggested that it was inappropriate for the board to impose regulations after the school day.

Dean Kreh, president of Mount Hebron High School's booster club, the Viking Backers, is pleased that the committee is rethinking the stance on after-school concession sales.

The Viking Backers make a considerable amount of money through concession stand sales during athletic events, according to Kreh - the goal for the 2005-2006 school year is more than $9,000.

"That's pretty much what I was asking them to do," Kreh said of the board's move to consider revisions. "There needed to be an exception, at least at the high school level."

Seen as unfair

He and others see it as unfair for the board to impose regulations at sporting events, especially since many of the customers are adults.

"The focus of the policy should be what happens during the school day and not after that," said school board Chairman Joshua Kaufman.

Kaufman also said the board wants the committee to strengthen the system's policy on physical education - an area that many parents complained was barely addressed in the proposed nutrition and wellness policy.

Input from public

Klatko said committee members are looking through e-mails and written testimony submitted during public hearings and forums held Dec. 8 and Jan. 12 to get a better sense of what the public wants.

"We may not agree with everything, but all the feedback will be considered," said Klatko.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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