Recess, food shouldn't be used to punish or reward, wellness advocates tell Fayette school board

Fayette County Public Schools central offices on East Main Street.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices on East Main Street. Herald-Leader

Students in Fayette County elementary schools should not be deprived of recess as a consequence of poor behavior or academic performance or because of inclement weather, a group of wellness advocates told the Fayette County school board Monday.

The group, which includes parents and teachers, also proposed that schools not be able to use food or beverages as rewards or punishment. And if more than one item is served at a school or classroom celebration, they proposed that at least half of them meet federal guidelines for healthy snacks.

Anita Courtney, chair of Lexington's Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, told the board that wellness policies were a matter of equity in education.

"In most cases the schools that have parents that have the time and knowledge to advocate for stronger wellness policies have healthier school environments. All kids deserve wellness," said Courtney, who helped found the Better Bites program that offers healthier food at concession stands at swimming pools and public parks, and during after-school programs. "If we wait for each school to prioritize a healthy school environment, we will wait for a very long time, if not forever."

In response, Superintendent Tom Shelton said administrators thought that recess and food policies should be made on a school-by-school basis, not districtwide.

"We had a committee of educators review the ... proposals," he said. "Many of our schools already have adopted policies that mirror or even go further than those suggested by the coalition. The staff committee recommended we leave these decisions at the school level."

Lisa Hager, a Southern Middle School health and physical education teacher, said she went to the meeting to support the wellness initiatives. Hager said she does fitness testing each year in class, and typically only 20 percent of students can achieve six out of six healthy fitness zones for their age groups.

Josh Radner, a science lab teacher at Yates Elementary and a parent, said that because food was used as a reward in classrooms, his son had developed a taste for "a whole range of foods that I prefer he eat less of."

Radner said he runs the school garden at Yates, and children love to snack on the fresh produce.

Denise Bauer, who said her daughter attended Dixie Elementary, spoke against the districtwide proposal as it concerned recess. She said she would be in favor of physical education five days a week but thought the policy would bring too much structure to recess, an assertion the wellness advocates disputed.

They proposed that all elementary school students should have at least 20 minutes a day of supervised recess, preferably outdoors, during which schools would encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity. Students would not be deprived of physical activity as a consequence of poor behavior or academic performance, and schools would use indoor recess strategies during inclement weather.

Eight other districts in Kentucky — Boyd, Breathitt, Campbell, Davies, Hardin, Knox, Leslie and Letcher — have adopted wellness policies, Courtney said.

The board did not vote on the proposals Monday. Courtney said she hoped the issue would be on the agenda soon.

Parent advocate Casey Hinds, who now lives in Seattle but is still involved in the cause in Lexington, said such a policy was "long overdue."

Also Monday, William Saunders, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, asked the board to add Equity Council chairman Roy Woods as a seventh member to the selection committee for the district's next superintendent. But district officials said a seventh member was not allowed under Kentucky law.

Shelton is leaving to become executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. His last day at work will be Dec. 12.