There’s a loophole the size of the Lincoln Tunnel in the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) – the federal law that set healthy school nutrition standards – and it’s about to get on everyone’s radar.
Each state is required to set new rules about how many food fundraisers, that don’t meet the new school nutrition standards, can be held in schools each year. This includes fundraisers during the school day as well as ones that are conducted during school-related activities. For a more detailed history and analysis of this gaping food fundraising loophole, check out Bettina Siegel’s fine post on the topic.
Needless to say, there’s nothing stopping a state from making a rule that unhealthy food fundraising in schools (e.g. candy bars, cookie dough, bake sales, etc.) can be conducted on a regular basis, undermining the new healthy school nutrition standards that cafeteria workers and school vending must follow.
It’s already happening in Georgia. The State Board of Education has proposed a rule that would allow schools to hold 30 fundraisers per school per school year that are food-related and that don’t meet the HHFKA nutrition standards. The Georgia DOE is also developing an exemption procedure for schools that want to go beyond the 30 food fundraisers per year limit.
According to Stacy Whitman of School Bites, school food professionals in Georgia are already up in arms about the proposed rule and I don’t blame them. “We work so hard and the Georgia Department (of Education) gives us a big FU,” said one school food professional in a Facebook post.
So what do you do if your state tries to enact a rule on unhealthy food fundraising that undermines the new school food standards and kids’ health? I say, fight back. If you’re loud, organized and relentless, you can impact the rulemaking so fewer junk food fundraisers are mandated.
Below is a list of basic actions you can consider taking. Remember, the worst thing you can do is nothing!
- Call up the State Board of Education (or other body that is proposing the rule) to learn the rulemaking process. Ask:
- When will the proposed rule be voted on and what is the process?
- Is there a comment period? How long is it? How do we comment?
- Will there be a public hearing where citizens can speak?
- Reach out and alert every group in your state that supports school nutrition standards about the proposed rule — particularly those that have lobbying capability. These may include:
- American Heart Association (State level)
- Your state’s chapter of the School Nutrition Association (they may take offense at the rule because it undermines the healthier food they are serving)
- American Cancer Society (State level)
- PTA (State level)
- American Diabetes Association (State level)
- Any local/state coalitions that have fought for healthy school food
- Your state’s chapter of the School Nutrition Association
- American Academy of Pediatrics (State level)
- Your State’s Dietetic Association
- Other medical organizations in your state (Academy of Family Physicians, Cardiologists, Dental, etc.)
- Any Public Health Schools in your state
- Your state-level Public Health Department; your local public health department
- African-American focused organizations in your state (e.g. NAACP chapter)
- Hispanic focused organizations in your state
- Organizations that work with other large ethnic populations in your community
- Local or state bloggers/activists who support school food
- Alert the media (particularly sympathetic media figures) and inform them about the proposed rule and how it will damage kids health. Highlight your state’s childhood obesity rate. Suggest an alternative rule for fundraisers that you believe would be more appropriate (for example, one unhealthy food fundraiser every other month, in each school in the state).
- Reach out to PreventObesity.net, which has large email lists of interested consumers in each state and can ask them to take action on this issue.
State Level – Organizations
- If you reach out to the organizations above and find that they are not organizing opposition to the rule, invite them to join an ad hoc coalition to oppose the proposed rule.
- With the assistance of the coalition, craft a letter of opposition to the rule that also proposes more sensible guidelines for food fundraisers. Send the letter to the State BOE (or other state agency that is proposing the rule), sympathetic legislators, the Governor, leaders of both state legislative houses, prominent mayors and the media.
- If there is a public hearing on the proposed rule, try to get a group of opponents to the rule to testify/speak.
- Bettina Siegel suggests setting up a Facebook page named something like “Tell (Your State) Board of Ed to Keep Endless Junk Food Fundraisers Out of Our Schools!” Circulate that link to attract as many parents and concerned citizens as possible. Use that page to ask people to take additional actions (call the state BOE, legislators, etc.)
- Write a letter to the editor or op ed for your local newspaper outlining your objections to the proposed rule. Be sure to highlight your state’s childhood obesity rate and to suggest alternative language for the rule. Find others to submit similar letters to the editor/op eds to as many newspapers in your state as possible.
- Alert your local school wellness committee and superintendent about this proposed rule. Ask them to create an alternative rule in the school wellness plan for far fewer unhealthy food fundraisers, food fundraisers held only after school, etc. If they balk, organize a local petition or coalition to get other concerned parents involved.
- Call your Governor, state representatives and local representatives to express your opposition to the rule. Ask others to do the same.