Wellness policy hearing is slated

Public comment sought tomorrow on schools nutrition, health proposal


The public gets another chance tomorrow to weigh in on a proposed wellness policy for the Howard County school system that would set standards for everything from physical education to the fat content of snacks in the cafeteria.

The hearing - the last scheduled by the school board before a vote on the policy - is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Board of Education Building in Ellicott City. The session comes after months of debate and a revision of the initial policy, which would have banned candy and high-fat snack foods during the school day and extended those limits to food at sporting events, plays and other after-school activities.

"Not everyone gets everything they want, but given all the input I hope everyone can live with the final product," said Mary Klatko, administrator of food and nutrition for the system and a member of the four-member committee that came up with the latest proposal.

School 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 Howard proposal unveiled in November did just that, sparking much of the debate.

Joshua Kaufman, the school board chairman, said that, aside from redistricting and the budget, the December public hearing on the nutrition plan was one of the most contentious he could remember. Kaufman understands the emotion surrounding this debate.

"We're trying to solve a problem [child obesity]," Kaufman said.

Board members want to make sure the public gets the chance to comment on the revised policy, which tracks the state nutritional guidelines. If the state guidelines change, the county's would change automatically.

"We've made changes that affect administrators in buildings, teachers in classrooms," Mary Kay Sigaty said. "It would be important to hear from our stakeholders."

Another board member, Courtney Watson, said the panel "may hear the same thing, but it is the safest thing to do."

The nutrition aspect of the policy initially generated the most debate. But food allergies and physical education have been highlighted recently.

The revised policy states that schools will provide physical activity for students. How much physical activity and when it will be provided are areas that are not spelled out.

"We can lengthen the school day," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin two weeks ago at a board meeting during a long discussion about the need for more physical education in schools. "But to think we are going to do everything we need to do with this policy is not realistic."

The public hearing will be held tomorrow during the board's evening session, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Board of Education Building, 10910 Route 108 in Ellicott City.


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