Revisions to the Pulaski County School System’s wellness policy regarding foods and beverages being brought into the schools for celebration of birthdays and other events have been rejected by the School Board.
The revisions were shot down Tuesday at the board’s September meeting when a motion to approve the changes, offered by Robinson District’s Dr. Paige Cash, died for lack of a second.
A presentation on the revisions by Ethelene Sadler, Director of School Nutrition, prompted Massie District’s Beckie Cox to reply simply, “Sad.”
Cloyd District representative Bill Benson agreed.
“I agree. It’s very sad,” said Benson.
“I personally don’t like it. Having been a classroom teacher for 36 years, I’ve seen this coming for a long time. I disagree with it and will vote no.”
The revisions of the policy being sought included restricting the use of candy and beverages to reward students for academic or classroom performance.
According to Sadler, celebrating success or events with poor nutritional quality foods can undermine healthy eating messages and lead to unhealthy eating habits that can continue into adulthood.
The revisions would have prohibited parents from being allowed to bring any food or beverages prepared at home to school to be served during classroom activities and any parties and celebrations.
Any food or beverages brought to school and any classroom snacks would have been required to be individually pre-packaged with all ingredients listed. The items also must have met the USDA Smart Snacks in Schools guidelines.
The presentation on the policy revisions, prepared by Sadler and Mary Hall, Supervisor of Nurses, listed three points to support approval of the revisions.
Food safety – Food prepared at home may not be done under sanitary conditions, leading to food poisoning.
Food allergies – Pre-packaged foods and beverages must have a label with all ingredients listed for the safety of all students who have severe food, lactose intolerance and gluten allergies and to eliminate possible tampering of food by accepting only store-bought food and drinks.
Equity – Some students’ parents cannot afford to provide food or beverages for their child’s birthday. Students who have diabetes may not be allowed additional food and beverages, so they get left out. Students with seizure disorders on special diets cannot have any other food, so they are left out as well.
In public comments, five people addressed the board on a variety of topics.
Title One teacher Brittany Williams commended the board for having been vocal and acknowledging “that teachers here are overworked and underpaid” and praised the board for working diligently to try and right that situation.
“Not completely there yet, but we do thank you for the progress that has been made,” she said.
“Due to the bus driver shortage, teachers are having to stay longer each day to chaperone students until late buses arrive,” she told the board.
“At Pulaski Elementary School, teachers are having to stay as late as 4:20 p.m. While teachers are contracted by days and not hours, it’s important to do the long-term math.
“Ten-month teachers are contracted for 200 days. Of those, 180 are with students, the rest are comprised of teacher workdays, late Mondays, professional development and training. Staying an extra half-hour each day equates to an additional eight workdays,” Williams said.
“That means we’re asking teachers who we already know are overworked and underpaid and are often doing jobs that aren’t there responsibility, to do so without any extra pay or benefits of any kind.”
She asked the board to look into the problem or create an additional compensation plan for teachers.
Gina Paine questioned School Superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers’ notification Sept. 8 on the school system’s website on the need for virtual instruction Sept. 13 at the high school and Sept. 17 at the middle school because of staff shortages.
Paine questioned how Siers could make such an announcement days in advance.
She also questioned a statement in the announcement which explained the decision to go virtual on those two days “is based on staffing shortages within the school division and not because of specific COVID cases within our schools.”
She said, however, Siers had been quoted in local media that covid outbreaks ARE the reason for lack of staff.
She wondered why the school system is unable to keep enough staff on hand to educate the secondary school students of the county.
“Perhaps you were so anxious to ram through the equity and transgender initiatives you simply forgot about staffing the schools,” Paine charged.
She said Siers’ inability to fully staff the schools “clearly illustrates incompetence.”
Paine said Siers “embraces the narrative that it is the unvaccinated that are to blame.”
She asked the school board why there aren’t enough teachers and staff, and called on the board to “staff the schools.”
Collette Hash spoke about recent Community Conversations About Equity gatherings to find ways how the community can help the school system, and to help parents become advocates for their children to make sure they are getting everything they need in order to bridge the gap in reading and math.
She also said the school system and community needs to continue to work in the area of equity as far as teachers and employees are concerned.
“Diversity helps everyone,” she said.
Rebecah Sheckler also mentioned the community meetings and noted it was learned during the last meeting that two-fifths of 3rd – 5th graders in the county are not at grade level in reading. “That’s a serious problem not just for schools but the entire community,” Sheckler said, asking, “how can we get the community more involved” to combat the problem.
Billy Williams addressed a letter to parents and guardians sent recently from Mary Hall, Supervisor of School Nurses concerning vaccination of students ages 12 and up.
The letter states:
“In a recent meeting with our students we asked them what we could do to encourage them to get vaccinated and their reply was to give them a day off after getting vaccinated. So, to follow up we plan to have a COVID vaccine clinic at PCHS and PCMS for all students who want to start their vaccination on Sept. 16. Then if any student who starts their vaccination on this date or can provide proof (vaccine card) that they are fully vaccinated they will be given an activity day pass for Friday, Sept. 17 (PCHS) or Monday Sept. 20 (PCMS). This means that the student would not need to attend school on the assigned date, but that she or he would still be counted as present.”
“So, it’s all about the vaccination,” Williams stated.
“What about parents and students who have a religious exemption, will they get a pass,” he asked.
“I’ll be happy to talk with you outside the board meeting about that,” Siers responded.
“How about those kids with medical exemptions, with natural immunities or those who just choose not to take it,” Williams asked.
“Have we gotten to the point where we segregate children – those who do this and those who do not. Have we regressed back to the ‘40s and ‘50s and put some people at the back of the bus and others at the front. Because this is a problem,” he told the board.
“You start doing things like this – rewarding things that are people’s choice … this isn’t merit-based, athletic-based or academic-based.”
Williams said whether or not to get the vaccine is a “choice someone is making,” which is their right. He said the school system is basically punishing those who choose not to get the vaccine. “You have to do this because you didn’t comply. Someone please reply,” Williams implored.
Cox said she would.
“Many employers, mine included have allowed an employee to have off the next day if necessary (after getting the shot).
“You’re taking this as a reward,” she told Williams. “But the reason is so many have taken this and had headaches, tiredness, whatever after receiving the vaccination, that they allowed them to have that day off. I’ve been vaccinated and one of the times, no problem. The next time, headache, tiredness and it took a little while to shake that.
“So, it isn’t a reward. It may come across as that, but it is not a reward,” Cox stated.
“Why then does the letter state that those who have already gotten vaccinated also get the day,” Williams asked, noting he believes the day off from school is a reward.
“That’s exactly what it is,” Williams stated emphatically.
“If you get the vaccine and you were sick and called in the next day that should be an excused absence. I have no problem with that.
“This is not America. This is not right,” he said.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot