Wellness Policies and Restrooms
by Dr. Thomas Keating
originally published by School Planning & Management, November, 2016
We need to rewrite Tina Turner’s song, “What’s love got to do, got to do with it.”
For this article we need to ask, “What’s the wellness law got to do, got to do with kids?”
To start with, every school district in the United States is required by Public Law 111-296, passed Dec. 10, 2010, to have a local school wellness policy.
In fact, a 2004 law required local education authorities, another name for school districts, to have school wellness policies by July 1, 2006. Most districts complied in a minimal way.
However, since Aug. 29, 2016, approved federal regulations now go along with the more comprehensive 2010 school wellness policy requirements.
Thus, as a result of the 2004 law, the 2010 law and the 2016 rules, there is a framework to establish healthy school environments in the approximately 13,500 districts affecting about 50 million students in more than 98,000 school buildings.
The guidelines, in the form of a statute and a rule, have everything to do with the wellness of students in every school district in the nation.
However, too many local education authorities have looked at the requirements for better nutrition and more physical activity and considered the requirements as an unfunded federal mandate. Too many policies are too wordy, too brief or too vague.
Rather than judge the policies, which like a two-legged stilt stress just two activities — nutrition and physical, — a better approach is to connect wellness policies with eating better (nutrition) exercising more (physical activity) and eliminating properly (sanitation).
By having three Es — eat, exercise, eliminate — we have a three-legged stool. We have brought a taboo subject — school toiletry — to the wellness table.
What's wellness got to do, got to do with school restrooms?
The two public laws, in 2004 and 2010, required local school wellness policies to include at a minimum three goals: (a) nutrition promotion and education; (b) physical activity; and (c) other school-based activities.
These goals were to promote student health and reduce childhood obesity. The one that is overlooked, though it is equally important, is “other school-based activities.”
School districts know their students, their constituents’ health and their local culture. The Federal rule effective August 2016, after six years of having Public Law 111-296 on the books, requires specific goals to be determined locally, with some consideration of research and evidence-based strategies, as well as adhering to several food, beverage and nutrition standards.
“Other school-based activities” that promote student wellness can certainly include safe, clean and hygienic restrooms.
Consider schools all have cafeterias, and these lunch or breakfast rooms are really the “restaurants” for their patrons, the students. The same students are like customers who go to a food chain or upscale location for lunch. They need to wash their hands before eating. After lunch these same patrons may need to use the toilet and require tissue, soap and towels.
Therefore the students’ behavior before and after meals is directly tied in with whether the food is provided by the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, in a sack, or in a homemade food container.
Wellness policies have several requirements, so linking eating and eliminating is like having fruit and vegetables on the new nutrition plate or within the old food pyramid.
Local school wellness policies also have several public awareness and participation requirements.
For example, the school system must identify the position title of a district or school official(s) who has the duty to implement the wellness policy.
What's the district official got to do, got to do with the wellness policy including healthy restrooms?
Who is that person? What is his or her phone number and email?
Although one individual alone does not usually have authority over all aspects of nutrition, physical and other school-based areas, the Federal law and rule also require eight categories of individuals to be part of the development, implementation, review and update of these wellness policies.
Students, parents, board members and the public must be permitted to participate in the preparing, accomplishing, reconsidering and renewing these policies. Four educational professionals must be permitted to carry out the same four functions.
Records must be kept of these community involvement requirements, which an official in the state Departments of Education will review every three years.
Each school will have to have local wellness activities, which comply with the district’s school wellness policy, which will be checked for compliance in these triennial assessments.
Consider the partnerships medical associations, community health coalitions, personal trainers and etiquette specialists could develop with schools to promote wellness. Best practice partnerships that promote student health and reduce childhood obesity are basic to wellness.
Since every student breathes, eats, drinks, sleeps and poops, we educators need to renew one of our favorite slogans:
“We are doing it for the boys and girls.”
So what’s love got to do with the law,
What’s the law got to do with wellness,
What’s wellness got to do with restrooms,
What’s wellness policy got to do with a responsible person,
What’s a wellness committee got to do with wellness requirements,
What’s love of kids got to do, got to do with it?"