Once considered too lax, a school district health and wellness policy changes are applauded by the community for encouraging student health.
When the revised health and wellness policy for Howard County schools was up for discussion last spring, it was roundly criticized. A year later and after a delayed vote, phased implementation and several additional changes, that policy was largely applauded by the public Thursday, March 13 at the Board of Education.
“I’m delighted to see the excellent progress made,” said Barbara Wasserman, a member of the original committee tasked to revise the policy; but she added there were still a few minor changes to be made.
About a dozen people spoke at the public hearing with many, like Wasserman, pleased that the proposal now includes stricter nutritional guidelines for lunches and vending machines, and parents were pleased about a lift of a possible mandate banning less-healthy snack foods in concession stands. Still, many offered suggestions to slightly tweak the policy more.
Groups like the Horizon Foundation, Healthy Howard and the Howard County Health Department, along with the ecumenical group People Acting Together in Howard, asked schools to publish nutritional information on desserts and a la carte foods on a weekly basis; to create a standing review committee for menus and for a definition of the school day in the policy.
Since the policy was first discussed last spring, the Howard County Public School System has implemented a breakfast program at every school; created a uniform 30-minute recess at
every elementary school; restricted food in student-accessible vending machines in the secondary schools to meet Institute of Medicine standards; and banned the use of food given as an award to students.
When the board votes on the policy in April, it will include the adoption of IOM standards as nutritional guidelines, efforts to incorporate more physical activity in the classroom and an official definition to the end of the school day — a topic initially in phase three, or the long-term planning.
Many at the hearing encouraged having a definition to the end of the school day, as that would determine when PTAs and boosters can start selling non-IOM compliant food in concession stands. A mandate that PTAs and boosters must sell IOM-compliant food is also absent in the new proposal — an initial suggestion that had caused much chagrin among parents.
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