School District Wellness Policies Will Be Held to a Higher Standard in 2017

As many of us consider ways to improve our health and well-being in 2017, local schools and districts are also hard at work, improving their Local Wellness Policies to meet new, higher standards. The USDA requires all school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to develop a Local Wellness Policy that promotes students health, well-being, and ability to learn. This regulation was first established in 2004 by the Child Nutrition and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Reauthorization Act, and then further strengthened by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA). The Final Rule taking effect June 30, 2017 strengthens the policies and increases the transparency, so parents, students, and community members have easy access to the policy. The Santa Cruz County Adolescent Wellness Network (AWN) and Mix it Up Nutrition Education Program have offered support and technical assistance to local schools and districts for almost 10 years to help strengthen wellness policies and practices.

In the past, school districts were required to have a wellness policy, but there were no provisions that required it to be fully implemented or evaluated. With the Final Rule schools and districts are required to show the evaluation process, provide public access, allow input on said policies and name the school official in charge of compliance.  These additional requirements will be assessed by state agencies every 3 years.

Additional minimum requirements outlined by the Final Rule;

  • Specific goals for nutrition promotion, education, and physical activities that promote school wellness. These goals should be evidence-based.
  • Standards and guidelines for all foods and beverages provided as part of the school lunch or breakfast programs that are consistent with school meal nutrition standards, and the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.
  • Standards and guidelines for foods provided at school parties and celebrations. These include snacks brought by parents, or for other incentives
  • Policies for food and beverages marketing that allow promotion of only foods that meet the Smart Snacks in Schools standards.
  • Description of public participation, updates, policy leadership, and the school’s or district’s evaluation plan.
  • School Districts have until June 30, 2017 to fully comply with new requirements.

State agencies, (Arizona Department of Education) will be the agent conducting the triennial assessments. Schools will be required to show documentation on how the policy was assessed, how the policy was updated if necessary, and how all steps in the process were made available to the public.

During the 2016-17 School year, schools and districts should be going through the self-assessment process relating to their Local Wellness Policies. Schools and School Districts can find assistance and direction at the following agencies/sites;

USDA http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/tn/LWPsummary_finalrule.pdf ,

CDC https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/npao/wellness.htm

Alliance for a Healthier Generation – Healthy Schools Program https://schools.healthiergeneration.org/

In addition there are local resources here in Santa Cruz County: The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and the Mix it Up Nutrition Education Program. Please contact Chris Bachelier at bachelie@email.ariozna.edu for more information. Chris has 11 years of experience working with schools on their wellness policies and programs, and continues to partner with the County Superintendent of Schools and AWN.

Parents, youth, and community members should also realize that they have the ability to participate in this process at the local school or school district. Participation by community members is encouraged and required by the final rule guidelines.  Ask your school or district for more information on how to get involved.