SNA calls for flexibility in school lunch rules

On October 7, School Nutrition Association CEO Patti Montague submitted the following letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to its recent article:

“How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground” (Oct. 7) ignored critical failures of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) overly prescriptive school meal regulations and misrepresented the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) advocacy efforts, specifically omitting policy solutions proposed by school nutrition professionals.

SNA members have consistently supported strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including limits on calories and fat, mandates to offer students more fruits and vegetables, and reasonable sodium and whole grain requirements. Those on the frontlines in school cafeterias nationwide are merely asking for common-sense flexibility under the most stringent requirements.

School nutrition professionals nationwide have struggled to plan menus that meet these complex regulatory requirements but still appeal to students. The goal of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was to have more students eating healthy school lunches, but under these regulations, USDA data show more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day. Students are choosing convenience food over meals that offer milk, fruits and vegetables, while declining meal sales rob schools of revenue for additional menu improvements.

The financial pressure will only intensify. USDA estimates that in Fiscal Year 2015, local school districts and states must absorb $1.22 billion in new food, labor and administrative costs under the regulations, amounting to a 10 cent increase in the cost of preparing each school lunch and a 27 cent increase for breakfast.

Without relief, more paying students will leave the cafeteria, increasing the stigma on students who rely on free school meals, and draining school district budgets in the process.

SNA is asking USDA and Congress to provide common-sense flexibility under the rules to help schools limit waste, manage costs and encourage more students to choose healthy school lunches. Specifically, SNA’s requests are:

  • Maintain the 2012 requirement that half of grains offered be whole grain rich, instead of requiring that all grains be whole grain rich.

  • Maintain Target 1 sodium levels, and suspend further reductions until scientific research supports them.To avoid food waste, offer, but do not require students to take a fruit or vegetable.Allow healthy items permitted on the meal line to be sold a la carte as well.

See also I support the School Nutrition Association proposals.

I support the School Nutrition Association proposals

The most recent New York Times article on school lunch controversies was written by Nicholas Confessore, a political correspondent. His article focuses on personalities and doesn’t address the substance of the advocacy of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) for changes in some of the new regulations.

He calls the members of SNA “lunch ladies,” a term he says that almost nobody in Washington uses in public and almost everyone uses in private.

The consistent use of this term throughout the article adds to a dismissive bias against critics of certain regulations. I think that Congress should change some school lunch requirements. Perhaps the Times should assign some of its science reporters to explain the scientific, rather than the political, controversies on subjects such as salt and fat.

It is misleading to imply that this is a contest between politicians and scientists. At one point in the article, Confessore describes the School Nutrition Association as “isolated.” He cites other organizations that opposed the one-year waiver of some of the school meal standards.

So, instead of trying to explain the rationale behind certain rules, such as the amount of sodium in school lunches and breakfasts, the Times instead subtly tries to persuade its readers to ignore the “isolated” lunch ladies. The article refers to the federal dietary guidelines for sodium, but does not note the new studies questioning these guidelines or the Times editorial noting these questions.

Is this an article about the latest fashions, or the latest in the science of nutrition?

I support the school lunch ladies.





Herrity to seek federal reimbursement for unaccompanied minors from Central America

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says that there are 1,131 unaccompanied minors from Central America living in Fairfax County, 417 in Prince William County, and 227 in Loudoun County, according to a Washington Post article.

Fairfax County supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that Fairfax County would spend more than $14 million to educate these children if they all enroll in school, based on a per-pupil cost of $14,755 for each student served by the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Currently ESOL serves over 36,000 students.

“Herrity said he expects to request funding from the federal government after he knows what the costs are,” the Post reports.

“We’ll look at what avenue or avenues there are for us and hopefully make a decision to seek reimbursement,” Herrity said. “It really is a federal responsibility, and Fairfax County’s being hit pretty heavily.”

When I think of the budgetary constraints that have made school reforms in Fairfax so difficult to achieve over the past two decades, as well as the number of times that pay raises were put on hold, it is pretty discouraging to see that Fairfax is being burdened with such large costs. I agree that the federal government should provide some reimbursement.

Fairfax County crossing guards assist in traffic direction

Kate Yanchulis reports that Fairfax County crossing guards receive expanded training which adds a step to their routine. “After halting traffic to allow children to cross, a crossing guard can determine whether they should allow cars in or out of the school parking lot before letting traffic resume normally.”

The police department noticed that the crossing guards had been attempting to provide traffic direction when cars crowded school drop-off and pick-up lines. So the department decided to provide extra training so that they would be qualified to provide traffic direction.

The article notes that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school. “Forty years later, the total dropped to 13 percent, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.”

More private meetings should be allowed

I’m glad to see another skeptical view of the benefits of laws requiring overly broad requirements for open meetings. Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, writes “Deliberation, collaboration and compromise rarely flourish in front of TV cameras or when monitored by special interests.”

In regards to the Fairfax County School Board, I earlier asked the question, Is too much transparency preventing problem-solving actions?

We should allow groups of school board members to meet together without requiring that the public be invited to each event. The current restrictions on private meetings may discourage thoughtful discussions that could possibly lead to improvements or reforms.

A shorter answer on full-day Mondays would have been better

One of the answers in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document posted by Fairfax County Public Schools regarding full-day Mondays is somewhat misleading.

The question:

Why this (Full-Day Mondays) is a priority when there have been severe budget cuts, pay freezes, and destaffs: Why are those needs being ignored and this taking priority?

The answer:

The priority has been to ensure we meet the instructional needs of students and maximize instructional time. The change to full-day Mondays for elementary schools was done to create dedicated planning time for teachers and meet state accreditation requirements for instruction. FCPS was only able to meet the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction when we had inclement weather by adding time or days to the school year. Additional staff may be hired to help ensure planning time for teachers.

Yes, it is certainly true that one of the main reasons for implementing full-day Mondays was to “meet state accreditation requirements for instruction.”

However, it is misleading to imply that inclement weather was the only challenging aspect of meeting the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction. Even if there was no time at all lost due to inclement weather, Fairfax County elementary school students were still short of the required time. The only way they could have met the state standards would have been to limit the amount of time for recess to 10 minutes per day.

So, a short answer to this question would have been better. As School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax explained in a letter sent to Sharon Bulova, “The timing of the decision after the FY 2015 budget was approved was not our normal process, but FCPS was not in compliance with state requirements to provide a minimum of 990-hours of instruction with an early release on Mondays.”

Should incumbents share their email lists with challengers?

Montgomery County will vote Tuesday on a proposal by council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) to publicly fund elections. Washington Post reporter Bill Turque writes that “public funding does not seriously disrupt the traditional advantages enjoyed by incumbents.”

Another approach to giving new candidates a way of reaching voters could be in allowing them to send messages to individuals who sign up for email updates from local office-holders.

Perhaps there could be a system devised for allowing qualified candidates to send out a limited number of emails during the months prior to an election. The email address databases are part of the local government. It seems to me that the strength of the local government depends in part on having well-informed voters.

The ability of the members of the Fairfax County School Board to communicate with large numbers of interested constituents has been greatly improved in recent years by the use of newsletters that they send out. When an election comes around, it might be helpful to voters to receive a limited number of emails from other candidates for the school board.

Should use of electronic devices be discouraged in most classes?

Why a leading professor of new media just banned technology use in class. Clay Shirky says that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work:

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

Shirky concludes, “The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “No devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.”

He says, “Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class–it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.”

Shirky is discussing college classes in this interesting article cited by the Washington Post.

Fairfax County School Board provides more time for considering the calendar

The Fairfax County School Board is allowing more time this year to consider next year’s school year calendar. Good plan!

The Board annual work calendar shows that the Standard School Year Calendar will be presented as new business February 19, 2015,  with a vote on March 5.

This is something I had urged on several occasions, most recently on June 30: Provide more time for considering the 2015-16 calendar.


Bulova explains the Fairfax County transfer to the schools

On Tuesday I reported that Fairfax County Public Schools will probably receive a larger transfer. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova describes this decision in her monthly newsletter:

The first major item on our agenda was a public hearing, and then adoption of the County’s Carryover Review for the 2014 Fiscal Year Budget, which ended in June of this year.


The County ended the 2014 Fiscal Year with a relatively modest $11 million positive balance out of a $3.7 billion General Fund Budget. This balance is the result of about $8.3 million in more revenue than projected – less than 1% (0.23%) of the original projection. The rest of the balance was mostly the result of savings and efficiencies within County operations.

You can view details of our Board’s Budget Committee meeting of September 2nd and action on the Carryover Budget by going to the County’s website at This site also includes an excellent video that explains the budget process.


On Tuesday, I moved adoption of the Carryover Budget package and the Board supported holding the balance in reserve in order to assist us with adoption of the upcoming Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. We are still not out of the woods as both the County and State are affected by Sequestration and Federal cutbacks in contracting which has impacted our commercial sector.


The Fairfax County Public Schools have also ended the year with a positive ending balance of $23 million. This is after absorbing the cost of beginning all-day-Mondays at elementary schools this school year. Our Board has been supportive of this School Board initiative. On Tuesday, the Board agreed to “bump up” the 3% projected increase in the School Transfer that we have given School staff as guidance for development of next year’s budget. The “bump up” will reflect actual costs for implementing this change and is meant to accommodate the recurring cost of full day Mondays next fiscal year.