Uncle Sam even puts kibosh on popcorn - The Packer

Uncle Sam even puts kibosh on popcorn

04/22/2014 01:11:00 AM
Tom Karst

Tom Karst My wife Sally is a first grade teacher, a wonderful, passionate, animated and unbelievably hard working professional.

 I say that by way of introduction to a short story she told me about her school and the "nutrition environment" The elementary school principal recently told the staff that the Parent Teacher Organization fundraising sales of popcorn to students will no longer be allowed.

 The weekly popcorn sales helped fund school activities and resources for the teachers. So it will be missed. And for what reason is it banished? The USDA school food environment regulations are apparently to blame. Teachers were assured that, yes, cupcakes were still acceptable for "celebrations" in the classroom, but the popcorn sales are nixed. Surely, teachers believe, sales of whole grain popcorn aren't so terrible to warrant banishment.

 The USDA's proposed rule on the Local School Wellness Policy Implementation under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act says this:

This proposed rule would require all local educational agencies participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or the School Breakfast Program to meet expanded local school wellness policy requirements consistent with the new requirements set forth in section 204 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This proposed rule would establish the framework for the content of the local school wellness policies, ensure stakeholder participation in the development of such policies, and require periodic assessment of compliance and reporting on the progress toward achieving the goals of the local school wellness policy. This proposed rule would also require local educational agencies, as part of the local school wellness policy, to implement policies for the marketing of foods and beverages on the school campus during the school day consistent with nutrition standards for Smart Snacks. Additionally, this proposed rule would require each local educational agency to make information about local school wellness policy implementation for all participating schools available to the public on a periodic basis. The provisions of this proposed rulemaking would ensure local educational agencies establish and implement local school wellness policies that meet minimum standards designed to support a school environment that promotes sound nutrition and student health, reduces childhood obesity, and provides transparency to the public on school wellness policy content and implementation.

TK: All these requirements in the proposed rule - spelled out in staggering detail in the regulation posed Feb. 26 - would demand about 241,000 hours of work by school officials each year, the USDA estimates. Wow.

 One comment found in regulations.gov about the proposed rule read:

 It is unclear how this will be enforced, ultimately. First, the rules are very confusing so that communicating the rules is already a problem. If this cannot be conveyed easily to a revolving door of parents/teachers/principals the information will get ignored. Principals are in control of what happens at the site level particularly in this arena; there are not enough food service employees/supervisors to manage at the site level.

Principals and teachers are overwhelmed with their own concerns (new common core standards, to name just one) that they are stretched thin, making sure parents provide information on what they are serving in the way of comp sales or collecting ingredients lists to be submitted to admin offices seems unlikely at best. And if they don't... what happens? The rules themselves are good rules but they are unenforceable, it will become a "don't ask, don't tell" sort of rule. Principals, teachers and admin have other priorities arguing with parents about what they can serve for their child's birthday party just before lunch will be low on the list... Why would teachers/Principals/Admin want to take time to enforce and police this rule and invoke the ire of parents? How does Food Service train all the folks in the rules?

Teachers and Principals don't have enough time in the day to cover the work they need to be doing as educators.On the ground, the enforcing and reporting seem utterly unrealistic to me. Food Service departments just don't have the clout, authority or manpower to train or enforce this on their own. Realistically, I don't see how this will play out successfully and I worry that the more rules there are the more they just become back ground noise - the law of diminishing returns and I am not sure that is a good thing.

 

 TK: The author of this comment has a point; how much regulation can locally schools endure? Will USDA enforce these rules? As any first grade teacher would tell you, there is not enough time in the day as it is.

So, while educators are "on board" for better nutrition at schools, there is a little pushback on the extent of federal reach into the local schools. To the chagrin of some, Uncle Sam has even snatched the popcorn bags from grade schoolers.



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