March 4, 2013

Group wants to end sale of candy, cookies at Wake school fundraisers

The Wake County school system’s School Health Advisory Council wants to prevent the sale of unhealthy foods at school fundraisers, including concession stands operated by booster groups.

Wake County’s student athletes count on the sale of candy bars, doughnuts and other junk food to fans to help pay for their programs.

But a Wake school system advisory committee wants to end the seeming contradiction.

The School Health Advisory Council will recommend Tuesday that the school board change district policy to ban the sale of unhealthy foods at school fundraisers, including those held outside regular school hours. The policy would govern sales at concession stands for athletic events.

The group says Wake should “disallow sale of candy bars, donuts, cookie dough, bake sales, etc.” by schools or “school affiliated groups.”

The suggestion is not sitting well with the booster groups that rely on the sale of these food items.

“They are restricting my ability to raise funds for the athletic program,” said Greg Weaver, president of the booster club at Broughton High School in Raleigh, on Monday. “People aren’t going to buy celery sticks to watch a soccer game.”

The recommendation is controversial enough that the group concedes that the proposal is what should happen in “the ideal world.”

“The council isn’t demanding anything,” said Brian Glendenning, the school system’s senior administrator for healthful living and staff liaison to the committee. “These are just things we thought they should consider.”

But, based on the group’s past track record, its advice could be a harbinger of things to come.

In 2002, the council, whose 18 members are appointed by the school board, recommended teaching a more comprehensive sex education curriculum. In 2009, the General Assembly passed legislation moving North Carolina away from an abstinence-only curriculum.

Nutrition changes

Over the years, the School Health Advisory Council has also recommended nutrition-related changes such as:

• Schools’ stopping the use of unhealthy foods as rewards for academic performance or good behavior,
• Banning schools from holding fundraisers during the school day that involve food and/or beverages;
• Requiring athletic events, dances and other on-campus events outside the school day to offer two or more healthy foods and/or beverages.

Those recommendations were approved by the school board and are now part of Wake school policy.

For the past few years, the advisory council has been looking at fundraisers held outside the school day that involve the sale of what members consider unhealthy foods. The group says asking students and families to sell these items puts parents who try to practice healthy habits in a difficult position as they seek to support the school.

Larry Bauder, chairman of the health advisory council, said the goal of the fundraiser recommendation, along with the others that will be presented Tuesday, is to lay out the direction they’d like the state’s largest school system to take. He said that if the school board wants the board to pursue any of the recommendations, the panel can do more research.

“This is purely something we feel they should consider,” he said.

But the food recommendation is something that booster groups hope doesn’t get past the board’s table on Tuesday.

Weaver, the president of Broughton’s booster club, said the club pays almost all of the $125,000 annual operating budget for the athletic program. The $47,000 raised in food concessions is a major component.

‘That’s a problem’

As a dentist, Weaver said, he can see the reasons for the recommendation. But he said that steps such as restricting all candy sales go too far

“I understand where they’re coming from,” he said. “But when you start infringing on a person’s individual liberties, that’s a problem.”

Cookies are a major seller at concession stands at Raleigh’s Sanderson High School, according to Marci Johnson, president of the booster club.

New regulations

The health council recommendation comes at the same time that booster groups are dealing with new state health regulations that would treat their concession stands more like restaurants. Weaver and Johnson said the state regulations will force them to switch to selling prepackaged foods or contracting with vendors, which cuts into their revenues.

Both booster leaders say any additional restrictions imposed by the school system would make it even harder to raise money to help the athletic programs.

“If you also take away the candy bars and the junk food, what will we be able to sell?” Johnson said.

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