On June 10, the District 65 School Board approved changes to Section 6.50 of the District’s Wellness Policy. The changes were recommended by the District’s Wellness Council, which is composed of 21 people, and includes representatives from 11 of the District’s schools, one representative from Evanston Township High School, and five community members. Co-chairs Stephanie Abudayeh and Hillary Linden presented a memo to the Board, and Ms. Abudayeh presented the changes to the Board.

A key change to the Wellness Policy is that it adds a new section addressing food safety. Under this section:

• All foods and beverages provided to students during the school day or at school-sponsored events that occur outside the school day, including classroom parties, fundraising activities or other events must be: a) commercially prepared; b) ready to eat; c) wrapped in the original packaging; and d) with list of ingredients provided.

• Any fruits or vegetables provided to students during the school day or at school sponsored events that occur outside the school day including classroom parties, fundraising activities or other events must be either: a) whole and intact and, as necessary, washed/cleaned at a designated Food and Nutrition Services-approved prep sink at the school; or b) commercially prepared.  

•   Any fruits or vegetables provided to students from a District 65 school garden during the school day or at school-sponsored events outside of the school day must either: a) be whole and intact and, as necessary, washed/cleaned at a designated District 65-approved prep sink at the school, or b) use District 65 approved school garden tasting procedures.

• Teachers and staff will follow food safety procedures, including being aware of all of their students’ food allergies, restricting allergens in the classroom and ensuring table/desks are wiped down after the food is eaten. 

 The policy also requires that foods served at school must meet certain nutrient requirements, such as calorie limits, sodium limits, fat limits and sugar limits.

These provisions do not apply to a private event (defined as an exclusive group including family, friends, neighbors or committee members meeting over a shared meal); e.g., a PTA-sponsored event at school for school families and staff. 

Also the new policy does not apply to food or beverages prepared for a specific student by his/her parent/legal guardian or other responsible adult.   

Ms. Abudayeh said the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Chicago Public Schools prohibit foods and beverages that have been prepared at home due to potential health risks. The City of Evanston’s Health Department and the District’s Health, Nutrition and Science Departments also agree that foods prepared at home be prohibited, she said.

In addition, under the new policy changes, food will no longer be used as a reward in District 65.

Ms. Abudayeh said the Council conducted a survey of teachers, administrators, five parent groups and the PTA Council. Based on the survey results, the Council said the proposed changes would have positive impacts on students with allergies, those who hold religious beliefs, and possibly low-income families. The Council said there could be a negative impact on students with special needs, Latinx families, and possibly low-income families.

To reduce the disparities, the Council says they would partner with Park School “to find alternative solutions to rewarding students, to encourage teachers to hold celebrations that do not include food, and to encourage PTA’s to sponsor evening cultural events.”

Board Comments

Board Vice President Anya Tanyavutti said she did not oppose the policy, but said, “It still comes across for me, this idea of us as an institution defining what wellness and healthfulness is for folks. Comes off a little colonial.

“I wonder if this idea of like saying foods with this much salt or foods with this much sugar are unhealthy foods and unacceptable foods for school, but those are the foods eaten at home. How does that get internalized as somehow my home values or my home traditions are less than. So that’s one of the things I find challenging in talking about this.

“It’s not that these are what I consider are bad ideas, I just wonder how inclusive it feels for some folks, and if we are the entity to tell other people what is right or wrong for them to consume or feed their children.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children ages two and older limit calories from solid fats and added sugars, and reduce sodium intake. The CDC says healthy eating can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other health conditions.

Board member Sergio Hernandez said he thought the revisions to the policy would provide an opportunity for teachers to reach out to parents and get to know their cultures, and at the same time push for wellness.

Board member Lindsay Cohen said she thought that having a “no food” policy would be better and more inclusive for the community, for students with allergies, for religious, for socio-economic, for cultural reasons.

According to the survey conducted by the Council there is only one school in the District which has a policy that no food is allowed in the classroom, but some teachers have the policy for their classrooms.

“I frankly agree with that and I think we can consider that down the road,” said Board President Suni Kartha, adding, “That’s not what’s being proposed to us right now.”

“For now, I think we have the policy that’s trying at least to move us in the right direction.”

Board member Joey Hailpern said it comes down to how the policy is implemented. He said it could be implemented in a negative way, but it does not have to be. The policy “leverages the CDC and other organizations that have a bounty of information from which the recommendations come from. I hope that the school teams at every site can roll it out in a way that is respectful and responsive, and can also be flexible to whatever the communities need at the school site,” he said.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...