Park City Board of Education delays wellness policy decision
One after the other, parents stood up and took a seat, faced the Park City Board of Education and explained their concerns. The message was clear — while they supported the idea of an updated wellness policy, they thought it needed fine-tuning.
Four parents spoke at the Board’s meeting on Jan. 16 to discuss worries related to wellness, such as recess time being cut from McPolin Elementary School and providing healthy food options at schools. The Board ultimately decided to hold off on adopting the policy and bumped the decision to the agenda for its meeting next month.
Many parents, such as Stephanie Winzeler, were concerned about McPolin Elementary School’s decision to cut its second recess for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.
With the change, teachers could give students up to one afternoon recess a week if they were behaving in class. All other days, recess was replaced with 15-minute “brain breaks.” The decision was made to accommodate for extra class time needed for the dual-language immersion program,
When Winzeler heard about the decision, she became concerned about the negative effects it might have on her kids at the school. Once she saw that the district’s wellness policy was being modified, she jumped on the opportunity to share her opinion.
Ultimately, Winzeler wants to see the Board include something in the new policy requiring two recesses.
“All the studies show how (recess) aides in their academic performance, how that aides in life, how that aides in social well-being and learning how to work with others,” she said. “I think it is a necessity for their well-being.”
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, said that the wellness plan is being updated in order to comply with state law. Nutrition guidelines about food available on school campuses during the school day were proposed in the draft of the wellness plan, and the section on physical activity was changed to address federal requirements for school wellness policies.
Although the policy is now past a deadline for being passed by the Board, Caplan said that there were enough valid concerns from parents that the Board decided to delay adoption until next month.
Usually, individual schools decide the time and length of lunch and recess, but if recess is taken away from some students, Caplan said that it may be time for the Board to establish clear, research-based guidelines.
“I’m fairly confident that we can look at it and try to come to some kind of resolution where at least there are some standards set across the district,” he said.
Caplan said that the next steps are to meet with representatives from nutrition and physical education, building administrators and Board members to edit the policy.
Jenae Ridge, executive director of EATS Park City, hopes to meet with the Board to discuss her concerns about providing nutrition and physical activity for students.
Ridge, who also spoke at the Board meeting, said that the updated policy was a step in the right direction, but she wants to see a more progressive policy that includes removing carbonated beverages from vending machines and requiring a 20-minute lunch before students are allowed to leave for recess.
Like other community members concerned about student wellness, she would also love to see recess before lunch, since many students rush through their meal and waste food because they want to go outside to play.
But, Caplan said that it is important to leave some autonomy up to the schools in order to decide the timing of lunch and recess to best fit their school.
Anne Peters, a member of the Board, said that she is glad that parents and community members are getting involved and helping the Board provide the best wellness policy it can.
“We’re elected by them, we represent them,” she said. “We ultimately speak for them and for what they want, and I think when they come to the meeting and they really feel strongly about something, it’s in our best interest to listen.”
Winzeler said that having the opportunity to speak and be heard indicates to her that district officials valued what she had to say and were willing to change.
“It’s going to require a little bit of work,” Caplan said. “Everyone wants what is best for kids, so it takes everyone getting together and hashing it out.”
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A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.