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Healthy snack rules apply to fundraisers during school

But only as far as Georgia State School Board will let them

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Posted: August 19, 2014 5:57 p.m.
Updated: August 19, 2014 5:52 p.m.
Healthy snack rules apply to fundraisers during school


New federal rules that took effect over summer break have driven higher-fat and sugar-laden items from Bulloch County Schools vending machines. Now the schools are waiting for the other whole-grain muffin to drop regarding fundraisers during school hours.

Thursday, the Georgia State Board of Education will consider a sweeping exemption, allowing schools to sell foods that do not comply with the federal rules in up to 30 fundraisers per year. Otherwise, some fundraising mainstays of school clubs and booster groups, such as candy bars, cupcakes and doughnuts that do not meet the guidelines, will be off limits during school hours.

"Right now we're just kind of in limbo waiting to hear back from out state board before we proceed and start looking at fundraisers that will meet the nutritional guidelines," said Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Donna Clifton.

For now, the fundraisers that have been approved for the year are those that do not involve food, she said.

As Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson pointed out in an update to the local Board of Education last week, the ban would not apply after school or on weekends. On school days, Monday through Friday, it would apply from 12:01 a.m. each night until 30 minutes after school ends in the afternoon, he said. At a school where the bell rings at 3 p.m., the prohibition would cease at 3:30 p.m.

"A booster organization has a choice," Wilson said in an interview. "If you want to sell candy bars, you're making a conscious choice but, knowing that, you can't sell them during the school day. Or, you can sell something different that might meet the nutritional guidelines, and then it can be sold during the school day if it meets the board policy."

Healthier snacks

Although the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was enacted in 2010, its Smart Snacks rules did not take effect until July 1, 2014, giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture time to work out specifics.

In the Bulloch County Schools, principals, who have authority over snacks sold in school vending machines, are using the USDA-provided online "nutrition calculator" to determine which items pass muster.

As a result, "Jalapeno Poppers" spicy cheese curls are no longer available in machines at Southeast Bulloch High, Clifton noted when asked for an example. Her school had already trended toward healthy vending choices, she said, but "really cracked down" this summer to make sure the snacks comply with USDA guidelines. Machines at Southeast Bulloch now contain, for example, baked chips, fruit chews and whole-grain rice cereal treats.

"We had a few complaints the first couple of days, but I think the students have embraced it, that this is what they have to choose from, and whenever you're a growing young teenager, you eat," she said. "We have not seen a decrease in sales."

Mattie Lively Elementary School, typical of local elementary schools, does not have any snack food machines accessible to students.

But the school's weekly, Friday ice cream sale is affected in that staff members have to take greater care which frozen treats are sold, said Mattie Lively Principal Todd Williford. Some ice cream products, particularly those whose first ingredient is either milk or fruit, pass muster as approved school food.

"Right now we're having to work through the companies to see which ones they have or perhaps if they're going to carry other ice creams or fruit bars that are affordable that we can have for students to purchase," Williford said.

Ice cream money goes to the school's activity fund.
Williford is also a member of the Chorus Boosters at Southeast Bulloch High, where his son is part of the chorus. The booster-sponsored sale of candy bars, which previously included sales by chorus members to other students at school, will be affected, at least in having to avoid nonexempt days.

This year, the boosters are raising money so that the Southeast Bulloch High School Chorus can go to Carnegie Hall in New York in April to train and perform in a Choirs of America event.

"We're working on what else we can do to raise money or how we can work through the stipulations," Williford said.
Superintendent Wilson's daughter is also part of that chorus, and so he was well aware of the uncertainty over the candy sales. But he said he does not disagree with the new policy.

"I can perceive how people would see this as an overreach, but what's the scope of the overreach?" Wilson said. "Who's paying for the health care? We sit here and argue that people in this country are not in good enough health. Well, that's a federal cost that comes back on the taxpayers."

State opposition

But the application of the Smart Snacks rules to school fundraising activities has influential opponents at the state level.

In a jointly prepared statement dated July 18, Georgia State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge and State Board of Education Chairwoman Helen Rice called the guidelines limiting food and beverage fundraisers "an absolute overreach of the federal government."

A story published Monday by Georgia Health News, at www.georgiahealthnews.com, quoted the joint statement and quoted Barge as having called the restrictions "asinine." Georgia Health News did not cite the source of that comment, but he said it in an interview with Atlanta's WSB-TV.

"While we are concerned about the obesity epidemic, limiting food and beverage fundraisers at schools and school-related events is not the solution to solving it," Barge and Rice said in their statement. "We have faith in our local schools to make good decisions on behalf of children. That is why we have initiated this rule that gives schools the maximum flexibility."

As Georgia Health News also reported, the American Heart Association, which supports the new rules as an effort to prevent cardiovascular disease, is urging the state board to reject the exemptions.

An article on the Heart Association's advocacy website, http://yourethecure.org, notes that with each of the 30 allowed fundraisers extending up to three days, Georgia's proposed exemption could add up to half the school year.
Information on the guidelines and examples of snack foods that comply are available at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website, www.fns.usda.gov.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

 

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