New Report Card Grades Maryland School Districts’ Commitment to Improving Nutrition and Ensuring Access to Safe Water in Schools
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD – Healthy School Food Maryland (HSFM), a parent and student advocacy organization working for whole, real, local and safe food for children in Maryland’s school cafeterias, today released its 2018-2019 School Food Environment Grades, the third such report card for the 24 public school districts in Maryland. There was an 84-point overall increase in grades statewide. This translates to an 8% overall improvement since 2016, showing consistent incremental progress.
The grades are based on a rubric of 13 items, with scores ranging from 0-4, that address parent and public health concerns related to school food and wellness, such as reducing sugar; access to potable water and water bottles; farm to school programs; salad bars and cut up fruit; use of artificial colors, flavors and other chemical additives; scratch cooking; variety and repetition of meals; healthier vending options; transparency; wellness committees; policies on junk food marketing; and availability of vegetarian and plant-based options.
“It is really gratifying to see that the work begun by this organization over four years ago, to shine a spotlight on best practices in school food service across the state of Maryland, has had the intended effect, of motivating districts to take the concerns of families to heart, and spurring consistent measurable improvement,” said Fania Yangarber, Executive Director of HSFM. “We are especially grateful to those food service directors who took the time to explain the details of their complex food service operations to us and invited us to their facilities.”
Of concern to Maryland parents is the Trump Administration’s decision to roll back the school food nutrition standards of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which have resulted in healthier meals with less sodium; more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; no trans fat; and fewer sugary drinks. HSFM asked food service directors about how their procurement policies would change in response to the rollbacks. Several schools said they had no immediate plans to reverse course in meeting the standards, but no school could make a formal commitment, via supporting policy or legislation, to stay the course in the long-term. While some schools said they had no immediate plans to reverse course in meeting the standards, no school could make a formal commitment, via supporting policy or legislation, to stay the course in the long-term. More troubling yet, several schools have already indicated that they are not meeting the prior standards with respect to whole grain content, and that they generally support the flexibilities in menu-planning introduced by the roll back.
Another concern is elevated lead levels in water in some district schools and the steps schools are taking to protect schoolchildren. Only two counties–Frederick and Kent Counties–obtained the highest score for expressly allowing personal water bottles and putting water bottles on their school supply lists. Other districts have either done nothing, or worse, forbidden students from bringing personal water bottles to school. Dr. Mia Sidhu, pediatrician and HSFM Board Member says, “Most schools have some lead in their plumbing or fixtures; and since we now know that even very low levels of lead in blood can cause cognitive, behavioral, and other health problems, students should be allowed and encouraged to access water at certified filtered filling stations.”
Top marks this year again went to Howard County Public Schools, the only district to receive an A+, followed again by Anne Arundel (A from A-) in 2nd place, improving half a letter grade over last year. Frederick, Kent and Saint Mary’s Counties and Baltimore City tied for 3rd place. Congratulations to Baltimore City, which raised its grade from B to B+, due to overall improvement and because it was the only school district to score 4 out of 4 for plant-based options. Frederick also impressed with their commitment to Farm to School, by developing a comprehensive Action Plan to integrate locally grown fruits and vegetables into all FCPS meals. Montgomery County also climbed 2 spots in the rankings and improved its grade from a C+ to a B! The state’s remaining largest school districts, Baltimore County (B-) and Prince George’s County (D) raised their raw scores, but didn’t improve as much as other counties did, which affected their ranking
This year, Healthy School Food Maryland partnered with Friends of the Earth to add a new rubric category addressing the availability of healthy vegetarian and plant-based options. Whether for health, ethical, cultural, or religious reasons, students and their families are increasingly asking for more healthy, plant-rich options. Overconsumption of red and processed meat has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even some forms of cancer. Increasing access to vegetarian and plant-based options is in alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and is also crucial to mitigating the carbon footprint of Maryland’s school foodservice. Access to plant-based options is also important from an equity perspective as Maryland serves an increasingly diverse population. The National Institutes of Health estimates between 50 and 90% of people of color are lactose intolerant. As documented in Friends of the Earth’s recent Scaling Up Climate-Friendly School Food report, there is a growing movement of school districts using their purchasing power to provide delicious plant-based foods.
“Friends of the Earth is excited to partner with Healthy School Food Maryland to encourage school districts to serve more healthy, plant-rich entrees. Emphasizing vegetables, fruits and plant-based proteins on school lunch menus will improve student health, as well as the health of our planet,” said Chloë Waterman, Program Manager for Friends of the Earth’s Climate-Friendly Food Program. “We congratulate Baltimore City for achieving top marks by offering plant-based options every day.”
The 2018 scorecard is located at: http://www.healthyschoolfoodmd.org/2018_grades.php and the individual district rubrics, can be accessed here: http://www.healthyschoolfoodmd.org/2018_All_Districts_Documentation.pdf
Contact: Chloë Waterman, (812) 345-4585, [email protected]