By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The Warren County School Board and principals of all five elementary schools in the district met Thursday night to clear up any misconceptions about the food regulations implemented last December.
The group hoped to address any concerns and come up with concise guidelines that will be administered to every school in the division for staff and parents.
The regulations, the result of a wellness policy adopted by the board in 2008, state that food can not be administered by school staff as a reward for good grades or behavior. It also bans the use of food "as a learning tool where students are required or permitted to consume food."
A majority of parent concern came from other regulations dealing with school celebrations and children's birthdays, which in the past often involved food.
"I agree with the premise of not using food to celebrate a child's birthday at school," said board member Kimberly Athey. "Many teachers have the child's name up somewhere in the classroom, and their name is called over the loudspeaker, so there are other ways for them to be recognized."
Athey also noted that the process can be costly for parents, and can cause more problems when certain students have allergies or medical complications.
Board members and the principals agreed parents should no longer send treats in with their children on their birthday.
Superintendent Pamela McInnis said many schools struggled with the regulation because when certain cultural units are taught, they often utilize food as a teaching tool.
Margaret Holmes, principal of E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School, gave the example of when her students visit an apple orchard for a day.
"Usually, they would bring back the apples they picked, and we would use them to make apple butter and apple sauce so the children learn the different uses of apples," she said. "But we changed that and just sent the apples home with students."
Joey Waters, Principal at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School, said during units where children would learn about Native Americans, they would usually have a day full of related activities; one of them was making cornbread. Similarly, on "Greece and Rome Day" students were able to sample traditional foods that would've been eaten at that time.
"But, we learned we could do these things without food," she said. "We didn't think we could, but we did."
McInnis pointed out that these regulations were only effective during the school day, so if a school wanted to hold an after-school event to feature cuisine of another culture, that was fine.
Waters also brought up the fact that some children have a later lunch than others, and need a mid-morning snack. Likewise, those with earlier lunches need a snack in the afternoon.
"Of course we encourage students to bring something healthy, but it doesn't always work that way," she said.
"Kids don't learn well if they're hungry," said Chairman Roy Boyles. It was agreed that in these circumstances, snacks were permitted. As for what drinks students should be allowed to bring to school, the majority agreed it should only be water.
"It's sticky, it spills, and by the time they get to lunch, it's all fizzed up," Holmes said.
Schools will most likely be able to hold up to three celebrations during the year. Board member Joanne Cherefko asked the principals if they felt they needed food for celebrations and special events, but the principals said they had learned to do without it, and could continue that way.
"We shot ourselves in the food with this regulation," said board member James Wells. "Our own personnel talked it down, and now we're trying to wrestle it back in again. The intent never was, never is, to suck the fun out of school...I think these just need to be guidelines."
Athey reminded everyone that the reason the regulations came about was because of the wellness policy and an attempt to teach healthy habits -- exercise and food related -- to students.
All those in attendance agreed that exceptions to the guidelines would be made for special education students, as well as those with IEPs.
McInnis plans to put the final consensus from Thursday night into writing, and then present it at the September 13 school board meeting. From there, the letter outlining what is and isn't permitted, will go out to all schools so that each staff member and parent understands the guidelines.