School Wellness Policies—Is Your PTA at the Table?

Do you know if your school district has a school wellness policy, and if so, what’s in it and what the district is doing to implement it? If your district participates in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, they are required to develop such a plan and to permit parents to participate in its development. They are also required to update and inform parents about its content and implementation. There are many resources to help your PTA get involved in your school’s wellness policy, and this year’s Illinois PTA Convention will also feature a workshop on how parents can change a school’s health culture by Action for Healthy Kids.

National PTA spells out how your PTA can be involved and ensure that parents’ rights and the legal requirement to be included are followed. These resources include:

  • A summary of what an effective, comprehensive school wellness policy should include
  • A School Wellness Committee Toolkit from Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help committees convene, plan, and implement their action plans (Note: login required)
  • Model School Wellness Policies from the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity
  • School Health Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Local School Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit from the US Department of Agriculture to help communicate school wellness information to families and school staff
  • WellSAT 3.0 from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity that measures the quality of written wellness policies.

School wellness is a community issue, and your school district is required to include families in the development and implementation of their policy. Ensure that your PTA has a seat at the table to advocate for your child and the children of your school district.

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

Children’s success in school isn’t limited to just academics. PTA has known this since our founding, focusing our advocacy efforts not just on children’s needs at school, but at home and in their community as well. Now, the education and public health sectors are aiming to better align their efforts to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development through an effort known as Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC).

The WSCC model is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) framework for addressing health in schools. The model is student-centered and emphasizes the role of the community in supporting the school. It consists of ten components of student health:

  1. Physical Education and Physical Activity
  2. Nutrition Environment and Services
  3. Health Education
  4. Social and Emotional School Climate
  5. Physical Environment
  6. Health Services
  7. Counseling, Psychological, and Social Services
  8. Employee Wellness
  9. Community Involvement
  10. Family Engagement

The WSCC model aligns with the Family & Community Engagement goal from Illinois PTA’s new Strategic Framework. Our goal is “Illinois PTA will look at the whole child, building bridges to other organizations and communities (ethnic, socio-economic, etc.) to provide PTA programs, education, support, and resources to all families.”

A new report recently evaluated how well the WSCC model is covered in state statutes and regulations across the country in each of the ten components. Illinois was one of ten states determined to both broad (defined as being rated moderate or comprehensive in 8 model components) and deep (defined as being rated as comprehensive in 6 or more components. Illinois’s statutes and regulations were ranked low in two components, Nutrition Environment and Services and Employee Wellness.

Advocacy Day 2019—A Challenging and Rewarding Day

Illinois PTA hosted is Advocacy Day in Springfield last Wednesday, February 6th. Though the weather did not cooperate, making travel difficult or impossible for some PTA advocates, Illinois PTA was still able to visit with every legislator’s staff and meet with a few legislators as well. A few of our advocates who had ducked in to see the House in session just before lunch ran into our new governor, JB Pritzker! If you couldn’t make it, you can still contact your legislators about our advocacy issues through our latest Call to Action.

Our three primary advocacy topics this Advocacy Day were:

School Funding

Illinois’s new Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) model provides an equitable way of distributing state funding to schools by determining what research and data shows to be the cost of educating a student coupled with a school district’s ability to meet that cost through local property taxes. What that model also shows is that 83% of Illinois school districts are below 90% of their adequate funding level, and that bringing every district to their full adequate level of funding would cost an additional $7.37 billion. While the General Assembly has committed to an additional $350 million per year for ten years, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability estimates that at that rate it will take 31 years to reach full adequate funding. Illinois PTA does not believe that it is in our children’s or our state’s best interest to not fully fund schools until 2050.

Given the financial difficulties faced by the state, one cannot talk about additional spending without being willing to talk about revenue, and that was the other part of Illinois PTA’s focus on school funding during Advocacy Day. We spoke in favor of a constitutional amendment that would allow for a graduated income tax, a position of our legislative platform for years. We also would support a potential increase in taxes on services to bring us in line with our neighboring states. Finally, we spoke in favor of eliminating the scholarship fund inserted into the EBF bill at the last minute that diverts up to $75 million in public funds for private school vouchers with no clear accountability on how those funds are being handled.

Juvenile Justice

In 2017, Illinois PTA released a report on young adults involved in the justice system, and among the recommendations adopted by the convention delegates from that report was advocating for changes in how young adults ages 18 to 24 are handled by the justice system. That report continues to generate national interest, most recently in a new report by the Justice Lab at Columbia University.

Based on our position on this issue, Illinois PTA spoke with legislators in favor of SB 239 and HB 1465, companion bills just introduced prior to Advocacy Day that would raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction for misdemeanors from 18 to 21 through a phased in process. We also supported providing counsel to all alleged juvenile offenders throughout their involvement in the justice system, reducing the disproportionate representation of minorities in the juvenile justice system, and assuring that juvenile court jurisdiction is based on age by eliminating automatic transfers to adult court.

Environmental Resolutions

Shortly after taking office, Governor Pritzker signed an executive order confirming that Illinois will abide by the Paris Accord on Climate Change. Based on our resolution on climate change, Illinois PTA asked legislators to make Governor Pritzker’s decision a reality by enacting legislation that would support renewable energy resources and regulate activities that contribute to the adverse effects of climate change. Illinois PTA also spoke out in favor of regulations that would prevent adverse environmental effects from fracking based on our resolution on hydraulic fracturing.

New PTA Partnership Helps Families Advocate for Safer Schools

School shootings are in the headlines far too often, causing us to worry that our child’s school might be the next one. Accompanying that worry is often a feeling of not knowing how to change anything to make your child’s school safer and perhaps the thought that it would never happen here.

That was Alissa Parker’s thought as she noted flaws in the security system at her child’s school when she attended a parent-teacher conference and shared them with her husband. Two months later, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary would claim the life of her daughter, Emilie.

Alissa Parker joined with fellow Sandy Hook mom Michelle Gay in founding Safe and Sound Schools, an organization dedicated to supporting school crisis prevention, response, and recovery. Since then, they have shared their story around the country, including at last year’s National PTA Legislative Conference.

Now National PTA is partnering with Safe and Sound Schools to launch the Parents for Safe Schools program. The program is designed to help families become educated and advocate for school safety. The program includes:

  • Resources to educate families on all aspects of school safety, including mental and behavioral health; health and wellness; physical environment; school law, policy, and finance; culture, climate, and community; and operations and emergency management.
  • Information on how to talk to your child about school safety.
  • A safety toolkit to facilitate conversations, problem-solving, and building partnerships in your school community around school safety.
  • A guide on how to start the safety conversation with your school leaders.
  • A comprehensive guide to the Parents for Safe Schools program with detailed resources to help you plan your advocacy. The guide covers creating a safety team, holding a safety fair, hosting a parent night, keeping the conversation over the summer, discussing safety beyond the school, and much more.

School safety is the responsibility of every member of your school community. The Parents for Safe Schoolsprogram provides the tools your PTA needs to engage your school community in advocating for safer schools. As the headlines continually remind us, it can happen here.