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Howard PTA Council concerned with wellness policy implications

The Howard County Board of Education voted 5-3 Thursday to make a minor change in how it recognizes religious holidays on its school calendar.
The Howard County Board of Education voted 5-3 Thursday to make a minor change in how it recognizes religious holidays on its school calendar.(File photo)

Six months into the second phase implementation of a school system wellness policy, the PTA Council of Howard County is again raising concerns about the lauded policy, saying it is too strict when it comes to student celebrations.

"They've kind of squeezed the fun out of everything," said Peggy Koele, PTA president at Glenwood Middle School.

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Koele, whose served as Glenwood's PTA president for the past two years, said end-of-school celebrations, such as pizza parties or school-wide picnics will be vastly different this year, if they're held at all.

"I don't know what we will serve, [the policy] is so restrictive," she said.

After a year of deliberations, the Board of Education unanimously approved the second phase of the wellness policy in April to be implemented at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

The policy states that student celebrations with food and beverages can only be held once a month and that provided food and beverages must meet the Institute of Medicine Nutrition Standards, which parents say are hard to find in local grocery stores and in some cases prohibitively expensive.

During the 2013-14 school year, the school system had implemented the first part of the policy, including breakfast programs, uniformed elementary school recess and making vending machine offerings comply with the Institute of Medicine standards.

In July, the school system's policy received an overall "A" grade from Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which ranks school wellness policies nationwide. Howard received an overall grade of 95 percent, which was nearly twice the national average. The policy received a "B" grade for effectiveness of enforcement.

But earlier this month, the PTA Council of Howard County voted to support three proposals amending the school system's Health and Wellness Policy.

PTA Council members voted to give principals the discretion to have school celebrations more than once a month. Under the wellness policy, school celebrations involving foods and beverages are only permitted once a month and after the end of the last lunch period.

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PTA representatives also voted to request the school system not require provided food and beverages comply with these nutrition standards.

Finally, PTACHC is requesting that the policy stipulation that food and beverages served at parties at required to be prepared in a commercially licensed facilities. Instead, the PTA Council believes parents should be able to make snacks or treats for students at their home.

During previous debates on the wellness policy, the PTA Council had expressed an interest in flexibility for school communities and are continuing that push.

PTACHC President Christina Delmont Small said the council's vote isn't a negative reflection on the school system policy, but rather an indication that some aspects need to be re-evaluated.

She added PTACHC believes the school system needs a policy that provides the flexibility to reflect each school's culture.

"We're for flexibility, one size fits all isn't working," Delmont-Small said. "As parents, we trust our schools. We trust our teachers."

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Although PTACHC has voted in support of these changes, Delmont-Small said the organization has not decided on how they will move forward with requesting these changes.

She said members are in the process of figuring out the best way to advocate their desires to the Howard County Board of Education and school system officials.

Board of Education President Janet Siddiqui said she looks forward to hearing the concerns of the PTA Council, but cautioned that this is a policy that has been in place only for six months.

She added that the board is expecting a report from staff this year providing members with an update on its implementation.

"I can just say it took us over two years to establish a world-class policy and we anticipated feedback from community stakeholders," Siddiqui said.

The meeting in which PTACHC made these votes was attended by a liaison from the superintendent's office and Board of Education members Ellen Flynn Giles, Sandie French and Cindy Vaillancourt.

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