Province's new nutrition policy leaves school fundraisers in lurch
Breakfast programs also affected, but education minister calls for 'common sense'
A new healthy food policy for New Brunswick public schools has left some home and school groups and those running breakfast programs scrambling to change fundraising plans and menus.
Policy 711 specifically prohibits foods and beverages with "lower nutritional value" that contain few nutrients and are higher in saturated fats, sugar or salt.
But it applies to more than just school cafeterias.
"The sale of foods and beverages with lower nutritional value in fundraising activities organized by, through or for schools/students is not permitted," the policy says.
The policy previously didn't apply to groups like home and school committees.
Brian Kenny, the minister of education, in a statement on Friday called for "common sense" approach to implementing the policy the department that he oversees announced in June.
Greg Ingersoll, the Anglophone East superintendent, said the policy creates challenges for everyone.
"Now those groups are going to have to follow this policy regardless of where they are doing the fundraising," Ingersoll said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton.
Shelley Wood is president of the home and school association for the Gibson-Neill Memorial Elementary School in Fredericton.
The group holds an annual Halloween event that hands out candy. That's now at risk, she said. The event raises about half of the $8,000 the home and school group typically raises per year.
"The thought of not having it has made us sad," Wood said.
The group is trying to raise money to build a new outdoor track.
"It's the children who are going to suffer," she said.
The group posted on Facebook, seeking suggestions for alternate fundraising activities, generating hundreds of shares and dozens of comments.
Sarah Hébert's twins are entering Grade 1 at Salisbury Elementary School and she's a founding member of the Friends of the SES Cubs.
The home and school group that began within the last year planned to hold a "Popsicles on the playground" fundraiser early in the new school year.
However, with the new policy, Popsicles aren't allowed. The event has switched to yoghurt pops, but at a much higher cost, she said.
It's also unclear if the group will be able to offer popcorn on a planned movie night.
The money raised was set to pay for various school supplies, including gym mats and playground equipment.
Both Woods and Hébert said that as parents, they support healthier choices but worry about the impact on fundraising activities.
Sue Murray says the Moncton West and Riverview Rotary Club serves about 30 young Moncton students through a lunch program three days a week. She normally heads to Costco to buy granola bars, processed cheese, deli meats and other food.
But now the menu must change.
The food previously served may not be the healthiest, she said, it kept children from going hungry.
"There doesn't seem to be a recognition in the bureaucracy in Fredericton that it's better to perhaps provide a child with a muffin or a glass of juice or a juice box or something like that than no food in their stomach at all," Murray said.
Andy Scott is the president of the Hillcrest Home and School Association and co-ordinates a breakfast program that feeds about 25 students at the Moncton school.
He went on a shopping trip Friday to try to plan a new menu and said the changes mean a lot more work and money. He said he could buy 48 granola bars with chocolate chips for about the same price as a box of six with fruit.
Change announced in June
Changes to the policy were announced in June after the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development worked with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and dietitians from Public Health.
It was intended to ensure students have access to healthier food options.
Students can't have food such as Fruit Roll-Ups, chicken fingers, processed cheese or sports drinks.
Cafeterias now have to serve full meals with a fruit, veggies and a drink. The days of students being able to buy a single slice of pizza are over. Condiments will be low-sodium, too.
Ingersoll said an example of the challenges now faced by schools and others are beverages.
Schools can offer water, milk and fortified soy beverages but nothing else.
Teachers weren't consulted
George Daley, president of the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said the group representing thousands of the province's teachers wasn't part of the policy's development.
"I'm getting concerns coming back the last few days because it was not something we helped develop, and we saw the policy before it was sent out," Daley said.
The Education Department declined to comment because of the provincial election campaign now underway.
But Kenny said in a written statement Friday he was "deeply troubled" to read reports in the media and online about the interpretation and enforcement of the policy.
Calls for 'common sense'
The five-page policy, though, is explicit in its restrictions.
Kenny would not provide an interview Friday.
Kenny said that because of the Sept. 24 election, he cannot direct officials in the government to make policy changes. However, he said he reached out to the department to encourage it to clarify the policy and ensure it is applied in a common sense way.
"If re-elected, we will immediately direct that the policy be applied with common sense and professional [judgment] and will amend the policy if necessary to ensure that these unintended [consequences] do not continue to occur," he said.
With files from Information Morning Moncton, Nathalie Sturgeon