Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

TOP STORY >> Less pop, more pep for students

Staff and wire reports

IN SHORT: Local administrator fears there is not enough time in the school day for new regulations such as more physical education.

The director of secondary education for Pulaski County Special School District said Tuesday she didn’t know how the newly mandated physical activity component could be implemented without increasing the length of the school day.

Deborah Bruick’s comments came on the heels of the Arkansas Board of Education’s order Monday requiring less pop and more pep for the state’s public school students.

The board approved strict new nu-trition and physical activity guidelines, such as restricting vending machine sales, in a step lauded by health officials and endorsed by Gov. Huckabee.

The nutritional component will be easier to implement than the mandate for increased physical activity.
“We will have to find a way to be compliant,” said Deborah Bruick, Pulaski County Special School District’s director of secondary education.

“Our days are going to have to get longer,” Bruick said, to fit in core curriculum, remediation and now 30 minutes a day of physical education. “I do not see how we are going to do that. It will be a challenge.”

There are no current plans to lengthen the school day.
“Plus we have to provide remediation during the school day.”

Bruick, appointed to the position created just a month ago, said the district would have to resort to “very creative scheduling.”

“Idealistically, it is wonderful,” said Bruick. “I’d love for them to have all the physical education, supportive remediation and all the academics, but without extending the school day I don’t know how we’re going to do it. There are only so many minutes in a school day.”

Bruick said it was possible for students on sports teams, but those with electives like band would have more difficulty getting the physical activity.

Already some middle schools meet the old physical activity mandate by having students in the mandatory keyboarding class walk around the track instead sometimes, according to Bruick.

The physical activity requirement will add 90 minutes to the amount of activity students in kindergarten through eighth grade are currently mandated to receive. The only existing activity provision for high schoolers is a single semester of physical education.

Starting in 2007, students in kindergarten through sixth grade must have 90 minutes of activity in addition to 60 minutes of physical education per week. The total 30 minutes of daily physical activity for all students can come in the form of P.E. classes, intramurals, walking programs or activity periods.

The new regulations cut back on soft drinks offered in vending machines, ban junk food in elementary schools and mandate each student in kindergarten through 12th grade have at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

“We’ll have to look at the physical education regulations,” said Beebe School District Superinten-dent Belinda Shook.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to fit it all in during the day.”

Shook added the district would have to discuss its contract with the Coca-Cola Company to see what it can offer in the school’s vending machines.

Cabot Public School District had already begun limiting the choices in the district’s vending machines, according to Cabot School District Superintendent Frank Holman.
“We had voluntarily moved in a healthier direction by offering water and diet sodas,” Holman said.

“Once we get the regulations, I’ll sit down with Erin Hartz, director of food services for the district, and see how the changes impact the lunch program,” he added.

Holman said once Cabot receives the regulations, the Cabot School Board will start discussing the new physical education requirements.

Huckabee in June suggested local districts should have a choice to implement the guidelines. He backpedaled last month, saying advisers encouraged him to take an aggressive stand for children’s health. Officials estimate about 40 percent of students are obese or overweight.

“The state board has taken a giant step toward addressing the obesity problem in the state of Arkansas,” said Assistant Edu-cation Commissioner Bobbie Davis.

Local school districts will find it easier to limit junk food than to find extra time in the day to shoehorn in yet another state mandate.

The new rules prohibit junk food from being sold or given as a reward at any time during the school day at elementary schools. Junk foods cannot be offered and vending machines cannot be operated at secondary schools until 30 minutes after the last lunch period of the day.

Fifty percent of choices in vending machines in secondary schools must contain water, milk, or 100 percent fruit juice. Effective with any new or revised contract, any beverage dispensed from vending machines must be 12 ounces or smaller.

Exceptions for offering foods of little nutritional value can be made for concessions at athletic events or for holiday parties, for instance. Also, the new rules do not restrict what parents can provide for their child’s lunch or snack.

Dennis Farmer, head of the Arkansas Soft Drink Association, said the new guidelines may hit school pocketbooks statewide.

Farmer said many school contracts with soft drink companies include a provision for the hours the machine is available to students. Schools’ commissions are based on availability, he said.

He has heard different interpretations about how the new rules apply to existing contracts.

“A lot of contracts have hours of operation as part of the contract and that part would be null and void,” if the guidelines are to be immediately implemented. “That’s when the dominoes start to fall from there.”

In addition, he said a large number of fruit juices are not sold in 12 ounce or smaller containers, and most milk products are not compatible with in-school vending machines.
“Schools could get significantly less money because of the way the restrictions are written. There could be very significant problems in being able to comply with all those provisions,” Farmer said. “It could mean that some schools would completely lose their vending program.”

The new guidelines stem from Act 1220 of 2003, which established the Child Health Advisory Council and initiated body mass index testing in the state’s schools.

Many of the regulations were recommended by the advisory council. Health advocates and some council members decried an initial draft of the proposed rules when it appeared school districts would not be required to enact the guidelines.

Dr. Joe Thompson, head of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said the board’s decision is a sign of support to parents who want to raise healthy children.

“There’s not one magic bullet. We have to do lots of things to improve the health of our citizens and our kids,” Thompson said, saying the new regulations “keep the parent from worrying about whether their kid is buying a soft drink and a candy bar for breakfast and a bag of potato chips for lunch.”

Thompson, the state’s incoming chief health officer, said health is an often-overlooked link to economic development. As the health of Arkansans improve, employers like automobile manufacturers are more likely to relocate here. He said auto manufacturers cite health insurance costs as a major reason not to move to an area.

Leader reporters John Hofheimer and Sara Greene and the Arkansas News Bureau contributed to this report.