New federal and state rules restricting junk food on school campuses mean some popular items favored at fundraisers could be forbidden.
But Florida recently passed a measure giving school boards the ability to create exemptions to the rules to allow school groups to sell goodies, but only at prescribed times and days in the school year.
The Duval County School Board is expected to discuss and possibly vote in September on whether to grant the superintendent and his staff the ability exempt junk food fundraisers.
If they don’t give district officials the okay, then most food-related fundraisers would have to stop.
“It would limit the opportunty for PTAs, school advisory councils and others to raise money,” said Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. “Most of the time they raise money selling junk food.”
The so-called Smart Snacks Rule was approved by state officials in July and is an extension of the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2011, in which USDA issued standards for healthy school meals and cracked down on unhealthy food in schools. Vending machines, school stores and snack bars either sell healthy food or operate only during after-school hours.
Florida rules say school boards can allow exemptions for food-based fundraisers but must limit them to a half-hour after lunch and only for a few days each school year. Junk food fundraisers can occur at elementary schools five days a year, at middle schools and combination schools 10 days a year, and at high schools 15 days a year.
Vitti asked the School Board for exemption power at least for the current school year, to give groups, PTAs, booster clubs and athletic directors time to find other ways to raise money instead of selling pizza, baked goods or candy.
“We’re talking about a culture that has been established in the school system ... that can’t be eliminated overnight,” he said.
School Board member Ashley Smith Juarez was reluctant to allow any exemptions to healthy food standards.
“We know it’s not healthy. We know it can affect children’s brain development,” Juarez said of junk food. “But for the sake of established revenue streams we’re going to set all this research aside?”
She said fundraising groups need to brainstorm healthier ways to make money, such has holding “green markets” or having kids do physical activities to raise funds.
Vitti warned that there would be a “shock” if certain groups can’t sell cookies. Boardmember Fred “Fel” Lee agreed, recommending the district get PTA input. Colleague Cheryl Grymes said parent booster groups should be asked, too, while Jason Fischer, another board member, said education is needed, not more regulation.
“It’s OK for kids to eat a small amount of cake or candy or to have a cupcake at a birthday party,” he said.
But the new rules won’t affect birthday parties or other food celebrations, Vitti said, as long as that food is free. The rules affect food sold to students.
Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083