Park City School District adopts wellness policy without ban on food-based rewards
Teachers and parents flooded the Park City Board of Education meeting with comments last week, and their feedback appeared to make an impact. The Board voted against a ban on providing food as a reward in the classroom.
The ban was proposed as part of a new wellness policy for the Park City School District. The policy aims to improve healthy options at the schools by adding fresh fruits and vegetables to lunch menus and removing caffeinated beverages from vending machines. One line in a three-page draft of the policy stated schools could not use food-based rewards for “student behavior, achievement and celebrations.” It received significant pushback. In response, the Board voted to revert to previous wording, which states schools are encouraged to use non-food-based rewards over food-based ones. The Board then adopted the wellness policy.
Parents and teachers who spoke at the meeting were concerned that removing foods from classrooms would eliminate the students’ ability to make their own choices and that teachers would have to do away with educational activities that support their curriculum.
Melissa Bott, a second-grade teacher at Parley’s Park Elementary School, said during the meeting that she tries to incorporate food in her teaching whenever she feels it is appropriate. For example, she brings in gummy worms and real worms while teaching about living and non-living matter, and she lets her students eat salsa they make with ingredients they grow in their classroom garden.
“It would change my teaching,” she said of the ban after the meeting.
Russell Owen, director of child nutrition for the district, spoke at the meeting at the request of the Board to express his own concerns.
“It does take away a lot from the teacher’s ability to work with the students and the parent’s ability to push the teachers to do the right thing,” he said.
He said without teacher support, which the ban did not seem to have, it would also be difficult to enforce.
“If the teachers aren’t behind it and the administrators aren’t behind it, I don’t think it really matters what we have on paper,” he said.
Kelle Cobble, a parent of a student in the district and a health coach, attended the meeting with the intent to speak, but chose to listen instead after hearing people share similar ideas to hers. She does not want candy given to young children whenever they do something well — which she said sometimes happens in the schools — but an outright ban on food-based rewards seemed to go too far.
She is ready to see some restrictions in place for the elementary grades, though.
“Letting the teachers decide, I don’t know if that seems to be working either, so it sounds like they really need to go back to the drawing board on it. Hopefully they will get closer to what the parents want and what the teachers want,” she said.
Andrew Caplan, president of the Board, said he knew the ban was going to be controversial when the Board voted to add it to the policy last month. He said the public comments were similar to phone calls and emails he received leading up to the meeting, and that the Board took those into consideration when making its decision.
Caplan was the only Board member to vote against passing the wellness policy without the ban but said he was happy with the overall outcome of the policy, including public participation.
“It was very clear to us that there is leeway that needs to be given, there is responsibility that needs to be given to the principals and there is responsibility that needs to be given to the teachers,” he said.
But, he said, the district does want to provide district-wide parameters for teachers to work within. The Board recommended that Owen work with the district’s wellness committee to come up with guidelines for giving food-based treats in the classroom. The guidelines would go in the administrative handbook, which contains the policies and practices for district employees, Caplan said.
“We want to have the ability to give building leaders discretion over how food is used, but I think the overall sentiment was, ‘OK, we don’t want it to be a complete free-for-all and we want to provide guidance that is healthy,’” he said.
The new wellness policy currently says “school administrators should annually discuss and implement appropriate non-food reward guidelines.”
Caplan said the policy is a “living document,” and will continue to be updated over time.
A Parkite who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 is giving scholarships and internships to three first-generation graduates from PCHS.