The Madison Metropolitan School District recently updated its policy for students regarding nutrition and physical education, but the Madison School Board wants more time for the public to review the plan.
The board was originally scheduled to vote on the policy at Monday's upcoming board meeting, but the vote may be pushed back.
MMSD officials rewrote the district wellness policy to align with new United States Department of Agriculture standards. The USDA mandated that all school districts set specific goals for physical and nutritional education, create standards for foods and beverages not sold to students (classroom parties or snacks versus school lunches and vending machines) and have a person at each school who ensures compliance.
Parents who spoke at a School Board meeting earlier this week were concerned that MMSD did not include language in the reworked policy around outdoor education, recess, school lunches and public participation in the process.
“I ask you not to approve the policy on the table today when it comes up for a vote next week,” said Cris Carusi, a parent who also ran in the School Board primary for Seat 6 earlier this year. “Passing it would represent a lost opportunity to create a policy that is even better than the one that we have right now and reflects what families across the district really want for their kids and for their schools.”
Dylan Pauly, legal counsel for MMSD, said the language parents were concerned about was moved from district policy to “guidance documents." Pauly said the change allows the district to be more “nimble” when setting policy guidelines.
“We just felt that some of that level of detail was not at a board policy level, but at a guidance level. We have not gotten rid of that language, we’ve moved it into a different set of documents,” Pauly said. “The changes were not to get rid of anything or signal that we will end outdoor education or not be serving school lunches, but rather looking at those existing opportunities and providing a better home for that resource and guidance.”
Currently, some of the district’s policies, including the wellness policy, include the policy itself and procedures for implementation. The board typically revisits policy every five years.
Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said the practice of including guidance documents for a policy is consistent with what the district has done for other policies, including budgeting and allocation.
“There are explicit rules in (guidance documents), things you must do and guidance on the places where there is flexibility,” she said. “We don’t want to wait five years to update the guidance on snacks in schools.”
Board member TJ Mertz said that there are positive and negative aspects to the policy and guidance document structure.
“Clearly there is a loss of flexibility, but there is also an important statement that this is something that is to be universally followed in the district, and any changes have to be done in a public manner by the Board of Education,” he said.
Pauly distributed copies of the guidance document to board members and the public at last Monday's meeting. Mertz skimmed the document but said he needed more time to thoroughly review it. Board member Mary Burke addressed similar concerns.
“The board hasn’t had any time (to review). The public hasn’t had any time to look at this document,” Burke said.
Pauly suggested that the board push the vote back until October so members and the public have time to review the guidance document. The delay would also allow the district to revise the policy and implement feedback after the district's fall wellness committee meeting.