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Food in the classroom: Board to seek legal opinion


By Kim Walter

FRONT ROYAL -- Although the Warren County School board had approved guidelines to accompany a regulation regarding student wellness and food in the classroom a couple months ago, the document will again be revisited in the form of legal consultation.

During their Tuesday evening work session, board members learned that complaints had been sent to Superintendent Pam McInnis about the new regulations. While the person remained unnamed, McInnis said the concerns were coming from the same parent who filed complaints resulting in the creation of the guidelines.

McInnis said the parent disagreed with four of the nine guidelines, the purpose of them being to monitor what children were allowed to eat in the classroom. After the original complaints were made, an agreement was reached, and McInnis said the parent did not feel that some of the guidelines were consistent with that agreement.

"She objected to the first item, which says that teachers may use food items to illustrate learning principals," McInnis said. She continued, saying the original agreement specifically said food would not be used by teachers as a reward or learning tool.

That first guideline goes on to say that while food could be used in that manner, it could not be consumed by students during the school day or on the bus.

The parent also disagreed with a guideline that states, "Food items may be used and consumed in lessons where the use of food is integral to teaching the lesson ... Parents will receive notice prior to the teaching of the lesson."

Concerns were also raised about two items that address the distribution of snacks as "fuel" for events like field days and those during SOL testing, and snacks at the elementary school level, where principals are permitted to schedule morning or afternoon snacks, given that a list of preferred food items is provided to parents.

"This person said that food should not be used at all," McInnis said.

"I can see where there is a potential problem with the wording of two of these guidelines," said board member Joanne Cherefko. "But the other two don't imply that the food is being used as a reward or learning tool."

Board member Catherine Bower agreed, noting that 40 percent of the students in the county are on free and reduced lunches.

"Some of them are probably coming to school without breakfast," she said. "So these children that are in that situation and need the fuel ... we let them go hungry?"

Board member Kimberly Athey said she didn't see a problem with any of the guidelines, especially since many of them stated that parents would receive notification if food was to be used in the classroom.

"As far as I'm concerned, these guidelines comply with the spirit of the original agreement," she said. "We are not cutting the parent out of decisions regarding what their child does or does not consume at school."

The board agreed that parents have a right to be concerned about their children's safety, especially when it comes to food allergies or other health issues like diabetes.

"But then we deal with that specific parent on a case by case basis," Athey said.

There was no further discussion on the items regarding food as fuel, but the other two guidelines posed more questions. Athey did not agree with eliminating them all together if the wording could be tweaked.

Chairman Roy Boyles suggested that a legal opinion be sought so that the board could know if it really needed to revisit the guidelines and how they are worded.

"We need to know if the guidelines meet the letter of the law in the agreement," he said, to which the board agreed.

"I thought the whole point of this was to ensure that a child isn't consuming something they shouldn't be," Athey said. "I personally think that's what these guidelines do."

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 13.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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