State education officials say they are now taking steps to ease new federal regulations which bar snacks considered unhealthy from being sold on public school campuses.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was pitched as a way to serve healthier school meals to students, especially low-income children, in an attempt to reduce obesity rates. New nutrition regulations that took effect in July bar any sales of snacks that have more than 200 calories or 230 milligrams of sodium.
But many student and parent organizations were upset with the US Department of Agriculture language that effectively prevents them from selling popular snacks as fundraisers, such as donuts in the morning carpool line or cookies during lunch.
“It is very difficult to find anything that anybody will buy that’s in compliance with the law,” Richland School District Two executive director of operations Jack Carter said, adding that the no-snacks rule covers any period of the day from midnight until 30 minutes after class dismissal.
But the law does allow states to create exemptions for some school fundraisers. The South Carolina Department of Education stated in a memo last week that it will submit the limited exemptions to the Board of Education for approval next month, with final regulations drafted by late December. But the memo does not give any specifics on what will be considered exempt or how many fundraisers can be hosted per school.
Education Department spokesman Dino Teppara said districts would be given flexibility to draft their own rules on what’s allowed. “Basically, there would be a certain number of fundraisers (a school) could hold that would be exempt from the rules,” he said. “You can host them the way you normally did in the past, and decide what kind of food to sell, what kind of event to organize, and how you want to use those funds in the local community.”
“It’s just about giving local control and freedom back to our schools.”
However, many school districts say state officials moved too slowly in drafting the exemptions, noting 20 other states already have them. Previous letters from the agency earlier this year had indicated South Carolina would not seek the exemption. But the agency switched its position after the new regulations took effect in July.
“I suspected they would change their mind,” Carter said. “Because every PTO, SIC (school improvement council), and booster club in the world would start calling them, asking ‘What do you mean you could’ve gotten an exception and you didn’t ask?'”
Pickens County School District spokesman John Eby said administrators just want to know what the regulations will look like. “We really want these to just be settled, so that we know what to expect going forward,” he said. “We can plan fundraisers either with stringent regulations or without them. You can’t plan when things are constantly changing.”
The state Board of Education will vote on the guidelines at its meeting next month. The Education Department memo states whatever policy they end up adopting will apply to the entire school year, meaning schools could hold fundraisers now without punishment. But the letter warns schools not to exceed the not-yet-established limit the board plans to create at a later date.