Vote next month on proposed changes to state's school nutrition policy

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Vote next month on proposed changes to state's school nutrition policy
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ahead of the start of the new school year in West Virginia, members of the state Board of Education will take up a proposed repeal and replacement of the Mountain State’s existing school nutrition policy during an August meeting.

Policy 4321.1 Standards for School Nutrition has not been fully updated since 2008.

As proposed, the policy aligns West Virginia’s state child nutrition standards with federal child nutrition standards and puts “additional health and nutrition safeguards in place for students in West Virginia public schools.”

“Our standards are not being lowered by the revision of this policy,” said Kristin Anderson, communications director for the West Virginia Department of Education.

“We’re just coming in line with what we’re already doing and what we’re already doing falls in line with the federal guidelines.”

Part of the proposed policy revisions prohibits counties from punishing students for unpaid or outstanding school meal debt with denial of meals, blocked access to extracurricular activities, graduation participation bans, refusal of transcript requests or other measures.

“They still go through the lunch line like every other student and they wouldn’t receive any other penalties outside of the lunchroom if their parents haven’t paid their outstanding meal debt,” Anderson explained.

“All communication addressing financial matters should be directed to parents/guardians,” the policy states. “Food and beverages shall not be offered as a reward and/or used as a means of punishment or disciplinary action for any student during the school day.”

The proposed policy revisions also address food brought into schools for classroom celebrations.

Baked goods from home are restricted, but commercially prepared and packaged items with identifiable nutrition labels or complete ingredient lists to address potential allergens are permitted, if in accordance with local wellness policies.

“Our counties really know what is best for their students, what works best for their students,” Anderson said.

In general, “It’s almost like this policy’s playing catch up with what we’re already doing in the classroom,” Anderson said of the proposal.

More than 180 comments, a larger number than usual, were submitted to the DOE prior to last week’s close of a public comment period on the policy revisions. Those comments are currently being reviewed, answered and organized for the state BOE.

The West Virginia Board of Education meets on Aug. 9.

If approved, the policy change would be in effect for school years that begin as early as Aug. 10 in parts of West Virginia.