Unionville says feds are out to lunch. Good.

It’s high time local government and school boards pushed back on state and federal overreach

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

UTMikeColLogoThere’s a little bit of revolution brewing in Unionville. And it’s a good thing.

In case you missed it, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Board of Education voted last week to withdraw Unionville High School from the National School Lunch Program. While on first blush that might seem like a rash move, it was the exactly correct reaction to an overreach of federal bureaucrats and First Lady Michelle Obama.

It’s a move I hope other school districts in Chester County follow.

Since new, healthier lunch standards went into effect in 2012, Unionville High School’s cafeteria has seen a decline in lunch purchases — and district Food Service Director Marie Wickersham said earlier this month she fears that if the high school follows the new, even more stringent rules for 2014-15, the district’s food service program will go into the red for the first time in decades, as kids “just say no” to lunch.

Enough, said the board of education, and they sensibly voted to become one of just a handful of districts in the state to opt out. Unionville will continue to abide by the healthier rules set out for 2012, but not the 2014-15 rules. The new rules — requiring exclusively whole-grain baked goods, reduced sodium and the end of in-school bake sales, candy fundraising sales and the like among other things — will still go into effect for the districts elementary schools and its middle school.

I have no doubt that Mrs. Obama and the officials from Food and Drug Administration that came up with the standard mean well, but they are misguided. Healthy food isn’t particularly healthy if it ends up in a trash can and kids run down to the local convenience store and eat Cheetos for lunch.

And while students in Unionville are likely to go home to a bevy of healthy meals, in less wealthy districts, making the meals unpalatable to students could actually worsen their health, by causing them to skip the healthiest meal they get all day. Ironically, this is exactly what President Barack Obama would describe as “the perfect being the enemy of the good.”

The standards in place the last few years — coupled with a district wellness policy — make sure that every child is fed a healthy meal — likely vastly healthier than most of us adults eat. Was it really necessary for the federal government to take it even farther?

Also, isn’t it important for kids to learn to make choices? If not, they’ll go off to college ill-prepared for life in the real world.

Michael Rock, a member of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education, argued later in the meeting that school boards need to become more activist and less accepting of top-down mandates and burdens when they clearly have a negative impact on local schools and taxpayers.

Rock is completely right. As I’ve been saying for a number of years, the fact that local school boards have meekly accepted the pension mess, endured having to privatize services, cut programs and/or raise taxes enables those making those sort of decisions to continue doing so without consequence.

I’m even beginning to be persuaded that the anger about the Keystone Exams is appropriate. While I’m not in the camp that thinks we need to ditch the exams and Common Core curriculum, the early test results make me think it’s not ready for prime time.

Using the tests as a graduation condition starting in 2017 — a test, that based on the failure rate, is probably half-baked and poorly aligned with what is being taught in Pennsylvania classrooms — is a big mistake. Pushing it back to 2025 when there is a solid base of data on the tests and districts have enough time to align curriculum to the tests makes more sense to me.

I’m not one to throw the baby out with bathwater — the test is a needed evaluation tool, both for student progress and coming teacher evaluations — but it is important to have something as important as a graduation requirement done properly. I’m not convinced of that when it comes to the Keystone Exam.

Similarly, blindly ridiculous state Department of Environmental Protection rules on stormwater runoff aren’t just expensive, there’s a great likelihood they won’t do any good. New rules restricting sediment run off into streams such as the Brandywine and Red Clay and White Clay don’t address the issue in a measurable way and often appear random at best, while placing expensive burdens on local municipalities.

I grant there is a real sediment problem in the Delaware Valley and the Christiana Basin, but this crazy quilt approach, with no way to measure its impact, will fix little if of it, while costing taxpayers millions and millions of dollars in local tax money.

While there have been a few protests, most of the reaction has been muted. It shouldn’t be.

With elections in 2014 — the governor, every member of the state house and half of the state senators are up for reelection — your local officials should be pressing on issues like this and others. And if they’re not, you should. Nothing motivates an elected official like a passel of voters complaining about the same issue and asking them, exactly, what they’re doing to fix it.

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  1. TE Resident says:

    Yes, I agree. Everything in moderation. Many kids have a tough time with regulation and moderation. There’s many a head on the desk after lunch from kids not able to handle moderation or regulation well.

  2. Vidya Rajan says:

    Just a quick additional note: I am an enthusiastic supporter of bake sales. In addition, I have always thought that forbidding something made it that much more attractive to some, and that moderation in everything was a good thing.
    I think that the kybosh on bake sales and candy sales will have a huge negative effect on the adaptation of the federal guidelines across the nation.

    • TE Resident says:

      I am all for bake sales just not in schools. There is a ton of information out there on what sugar does to the brain, not to mention motivation and weight gain.

      • Vidya Rajan says:

        Bake sales are usually used as fundraisers. They’re popular. Sugar is actually good for the brain (glucose is what the brain metabolizes and what starch is broken down into). The problem is the glycemic index, which, if high, causes insulin to be released and blood sugar stored in cells as fat if the liver’s full up with glycogen.
        Baked goods, in moderation, are really enjoyable. Even in school. In moderation.

  3. Vidya Rajan says:

    I want to put forth an alternative reason kids are abandoning the cafeteria (I have a sample size of two, my child and a friend of my child’s, so you can take this seriously or not, as you prefer.) While I respect the decision that UCFSD made, the reasons for opting out may not invite some kids back to the cafeteria.

    My child decided the food in the cafeteria was too unhealthy. They wanted more vegetables, fruit and whole grain bread and no more fried, starchy foods. A part of this push came from their sports coach who gave them a list of foods they could eat and those they shouldn’t…fast food meats, fried food, processed cold cuts, waffles, bagels, pancakes, breakfast cereals, candy bars, fruit juices with added sugar and soda were off the menu. (If anyone wants to see this, please let me know. You will be startled by the foods that don’t make the cut. Pun intended).

    Long story short, and although we eat pretty healthy food overall, my child started taking lunch to school containing foods that his coach recommended. Had the Federal Guidelines come into play, ironically, some may have even gone back to eating in the cafeteria!

    FYI, allowed foods: skinless chicken breast, lean turkey, free range eggs, venison, buffalo, mushrooms, tomatoes, mixed beans, lentils, whole wheat bread, olives, apples, berries, almonds, hazelnuts and so on.

  4. TE Resident says:

    I find it amusing that Keith is all for kids “choosing” their way to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease yet he restricts their parents right to choose where their tax dollars are spent. He uses sarcasm and anger because he knows his arguments have no merit and are without logic.

    Also, I guess it’s not that easy to ignore me after all.

    • Keith Knauss says:

      Actually, I like to use sarcasm and humor to get my point across and TE Resident is the perfect “straight man”. Seriously, I highly value the freedom to make choices for myself and my children. And I have no problem taking responsibility for the outcomes, positive or negative. I do have problems with big brother encroaching where he doesn’t belong. I’m sure we heard the same “we know what’s best for you” justification for prohibition.
      On a more light-hearted note, are you serious when you say, ” If they want a treat they know broccoli and fruits and lean proteins are first and if they refuse then, they’re hungry.” Do your kids ever get cookies, cupcakes, pizza, cheeseburgers, ice cream or candy?

      • TE Resident says:

        People use sarcasm and anger, well sarcasm is anger, because they lose control and try to get it back by dominating others through bullying and intimidating techniques. Thank-you for cleaning up your tone. Now that your hostility is gone, readers can focus on your points.

        Of course my kids get cookies, cake candy, cupcakes etc. But timing is everything. One just left for sports after having 2 eggs and canadian bacon (no fat) on a whole grain bagel along with a glass of no fat milk. They took a thermos of water and a rice crispy treat for later.

  5. Kristin Hoover says:

    Isn’t it interesting that UCFSD would rather give a whopper raise to the Superintendent than risk having to spend any more money on healthier food choices? Isn’t it interesting that someone who has had serious challenges with weight begrudge attempts at curbing this problem for other people? Marie Wickersham is running 6 cafeterias AND the transportation of students in UCFSD so it is no wonder that she would be too overwhelmed to figure it all out. So in a District that says it cares about kids, really only cares about its own political agendas.

  6. Birmingham Mom says:

    I don’t allow my children to buy their lunches because of how unhealthy they are. There are probably lots of parents who feel the same way. Adopting the new federal standards would be a better (and healthier) way to keep the district’s lunch program out of the red.

  7. Keith Knauss says:

    Well, lets not stop at “limiting food choices to healthy fruits veggies and lean proteins” for students. If it’s good for the kids, let’s mandate it for adults, too. Maybe TE Resident can get one of her legislators at the state or national level to introduce a bill outlawing all food items that might lead to “obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoarthritis”. After all, big sister Michelle O knows what is best for all. I’m looking forward to chomping down on a tasty McKale Burger with a Dr Pepper beet juice chaser. (limited, of course, to no more than 16 ounces in NYC)

    • Kristin Hoover says:

      There is nothing funny about poor nutrition and the toll it takes on individual health and the healthcare system. You can yuck it up with the likes of Sarah Palin with your cheap shots and snide remarks. The next time somebody who is overweight has a heart attack or a stroke, I hope you remember to break out in your schtick at the hospital or funeral. Those intensive care areas and emergency rooms aren’t the most humorous places on earth.

  8. TE Resident says:

    Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. More than a third of children and adolescents in our country are now overweight or obese.

    It’s an urgent crisis with immediate and long-term health consequences for our children. Obese youths are more likely to have pre-diabetes and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Overweight children also tend to be overweight adults and are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and osteoarthritis.not forcing anyone into my style of parenting.

    Let’s face it, kids like sugar, fat and sodium laced food. Parents have to steer them to make good choices.

    Based on the state of the health of todays youth, I would argue that limiting food choices to healthy fruits veggies and lean proteins leads to healthy adults who make make responsible food choices decreasing their chances for stroke, heart attack, cancer etc.

  9. Observing says:

    Why is this a “GOP issue?” The Board is not Republican-controlled or dominated. If you don’t want your children to eat junk food, tell them not to do so and educate them accordingly. Don’t force everyone else into your style of parenting. I would argue denying children food choices simply leads them to making more irresponsible ones when they are older and independent.

  10. TE Resident says:

    GOP leaders insist the long-term health crisis must take a backseat to the near-term financial concerns of school cafeterias.

    I am fiscally conservative in many ways, but good nutrition is an absolute must: in homes, in school, anywhere. Children are better able to focus in school, better able to achieve success, etc when they are fed wholesome, nutritious food. I will gladly pay extra money to ensure children are eating real food. How about we take some of the raises and bonuses granted to administrators and allot it towards fruit and veggie gardens in the schools? Kids would be more interested in eating nutrient rich foods if they had a hand in growing it.

    I admit, it’s going to take a while for kids to get used to the idea that they can’t go to the cafeteria anymore and buy brain fogging sugar, sodium and fat rich foods that contributes to the obesity epidemic in children in this country. We’ve got to do something about it and this is a great place to start. Every year in January (mid term week) it’s all I can do not to call the principal at CHS and complain about the donut, cookie, candy soda hosted bakes sales that students are encouraged to support right before they go in to take their exams. There is nothing worse on the brain than a sugar and fat laced bake sale to bring test score down more than a few points.

    No one likes sugar and junk food more than my kids. If they want a treat they know broccoli and fruits and lean proteins are first and if they refuse then, they’re hungry. Sometimes it takes discomfort to motivate and teach kids to make the right choices. Some parents today have a tough time watching their children feel uncomfortable. The older they get, the less they complain and the healthier they are. It’s worth it.

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