2006-09-14 / Front Page

School Committee considers healthy menu

By Michaela Kennedy

After a last-minute addition to the agenda concerning bussing, the School Committee spent most of its Sept. 7 meeting discussing healthy alternatives to the current school lunch menu.

Christiana Matley of High Street voiced concerns about early morning high school bussing to North Kingstown. She asked if a separate bus could be used to accommodate students who go early for breakfast at the school so other students would not have to arrive at the high school so early.

Citing a new open meetings law that requires anyone in an open forum to make a request in writing, School Committee Chairwoman Catherine Kaiser asked Matley to put her request in writing. Matley submitted a written note to the board a few minutes later, and voted to add the discussion to the agenda.

Superintendent Robert Power said that fulfilling the request would raise some legal and logistical issues. "We can't ask students to identify themselves, which would single them out. It might bring about action from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)," he said, adding that it would take extra time and money to have an early bus covering the whole island.

Power said that in a conversation with NKHS Assistant Principal John Lalli, he learned that the breakfast program gave students 15 minutes to have their breakfast, from 7 a.m. until classes begin at 7:20 a.m.

Power noted that students on bus 3 board the bus at 6:30 a.m. "Some students in North Kingstown are getting on the bus at 6 a.m., so we are fairly efficient," he added.

Power admitted that some parents expressed frustration that the Jamestown School administration did not know about the high school schedule, and apologized for the lack of communication between the two school districts.

Kaiser noted that schools must provide free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches to students who are eligible.

"Their new health and wellness policy states that the meals will be made available to all children," committee member James Filkins added.

Vice Chairwoman Julie Kallfelz asked how to find out the number of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals, but Power responded it was confidential information.

Kaiser suggested inviting John Lalli from NKHS to a School Committee meeting to discuss the matter.

The talk about school meal policies led into the agenda discussion on exploring food service providers.

The committee brainstormed various approaches to making a healthy change in the school meal program.

Kaiser presented a chart listing national statistics on children and weight problems. She noted that children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19 average 30 percent overweight, and more than 15 percent of children are considered obese.

The chart also listed adverse effects associated with being overweight, such as high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and eating disorders. "The most serious of these medical problems is typetwo diabetes," Kaiser said. "This will be the first generation that will have their life span decreased instead of increased," she added.

Filkins showed frustration with lunch providers who claim that no profit can be made on healthier alternatives. He suggested contacting people at the state level to start a discussion to "find out what works and what doesn't."

Committee member William Brennan used a business model to break down the problem into three points, product, management, and cost. "We need to create a menu, and then go out to bid, and find out how much it really costs. You don't know where you are until you know how much it's going to cost and who's willing to do it," he said.

Kaiser agreed. "Even creating the menu is beyond our expertise," she added.

Filkins suggested hiring a food consultant to outline a program. Kallfelz reminded the commit

tee how small the school system was and suggested finding out if other school systems are discussing the same issue.

The superintendent acknowledged the ideas presented, and went on to mention all the guidelines and standards that needed to be considered. "Emphasizing that is a complicated process," he said. Power noted schools he worked in the past where a vendor provided bag lunches to places where dish washing facilities were not present.

The committee talked about researching grant opportunities that would help to allay the financial burden of school lunch reform.

Kaiser summed up the discussion with three action items that the committee agreed on: + Find a nutrition consultant + Contact the Rhode Island Foundation concerning available grants + Identify and invite vendors to a workshop to discuss healthy

lunch offerings

In other business, the committee unanimously approved the appointment of Jennifer Clark as a sixth grade mathematics teacher. Clark substituted in the school system last year.

Filkins informed the committee that he would be entering a hospital on Sept. 22 for a stem-cell transplant and would be admitted for six to eight weeks. Filkins asked that the committee cover his duties in his absence.

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