WV school board considering changes to nutrition standards

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The West Virginia Board of Education voted Wednesday to put out for 30-day public comment period proposed policy changes that would remove the state’s existing nutrition standards for school meals and snacks and instead tie the state’s standards to the federal minimum requirements.

There were no nays in the voice vote to put the proposed changes to Policy 4321.1 out for public comment. Following the public comment period, the board will have to vote on whether to approve the proposed changes, which may be modified after the comment period ends.

In March, the Department of Education, which the board oversees, released guidance that the department said removed restrictions on “classroom celebration” food. But the newly proposed changes would impact meals and snacks.

Jenny Anderson is director of the WV Parents Action for Wellness Network and has four children and three grandchildren. She spoke to the board during Wednesday’s time for remarks from the public.

“I’m not sure if you realize that, [by] linking everything regarding Smart Schools Snacks and USDA School Food Program, that potentially leaves us open to a future weakened school food program,” she said. “We are starting to see these changes creep in on a national level in the news.”

Board President Tom Campbell said after Anderson’s comments and voting to put the policy out for public comment that he didn’t realize it tied the state standards to just the federal minimum.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, according to a Department of Agriculture news release, signed a proclamation last month that “begins the process of restoring local control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium, and milk.”

The Washington Post reported, “Perdue announced that his department would be slowing the implementation of aggressive standards on sodium, whole grains and sweetened milks that passed under the Obama administration.”

Amanda Harrison, executive director of the state education department’s Office of Child Nutrition, said, “Things can always change at the federal level, and we have no indication of if or when that will happen.”

She said she believes the state’s current school nutrition policy is in the same form, aside from some minor adjustments, as it was in 2008. She said it wasn’t updated to reflect federal legislation from 2010, although she said the state has, regardless, been following the federal standards since then.

Harrison said the state’s existing policy goes beyond what the federal regulations require in a few areas, including by prohibiting caffeine.

“Many West Virginians not only appreciate but depend on our strong nutrition policies in the schools,” Kate Long, co-director of Try This West Virginia, told the board. “We have parents out there who are fighting the child obesity epidemic all over the state.

“We can’t afford to link it to a moving target,” Long said of the state’s standards. “A target that’s moving downward, which is the federal minimum standards.”

Also in the proposed policy is language that Harrison said would newly ban any local instances of “lunch-shaming” students, something that’s been reported in other states.

“Districts are prohibited from penalizing students due to unpaid and/or outstanding meal debt,” says added language in the proposed changes. “This includes, but is not limited to: denial of meals, prohibition of participating in extra-curricular activities, the denial of participation in graduation and/or the refusal of transcript requests.

“Schools may not throw away a meal after it is has been served to a student or offer an alternative meal because the student either does not have the money to pay or the student’s family owes money. All communication addressing financial matters should be directed to parents/guardians. Practices, including but not limited to, putting stickers or wristbands on children to remind parents/guardians to pay unpaid fees are prohibited. Schools shall not identify or stigmatize students with meal debt or require them to complete chores or work in exchange for meals.”

You can read and comment on the proposed policy changes at wvde.state.wv.us/policies. Links to the proposed changes and the website for comments are in the box at the top of the page, while the link to the existing policy is among the long list below the public comment box.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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