Recommendations for Chicago Public Schools’ Proposed School Wellness Policy
At its May 2023 meeting, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education will consider a proposal for a new Local School Wellness Policy for Students. Wellness policies are required of all school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program, and they provide an important opportunity for district leadership to share their values, priorities, plans and accountability mechanisms for supporting the health and wellness of all students.
Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) has reviewed and provided recommendations and feedback on the CPS wellness policy each time it has come up for renewal since 2004, when the wellness policy requirement was first included in the Child Nutrition Act (CNA). The CNA is the law that funds our nation’s federal school meal and child nutrition programs.
Our full recommendations to the proposed new CPS wellness policy, which have been shared with CPS district leadership, can be found here.
Healthy Schools Campaign’s recommendations are the result of a careful review by staff from across the organization, conversations with key partners, and consultation of best practices from sources including the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HSC also participated in the district’s stakeholder engagement process.
These recommendations also benefited greatly from input from parent and community leaders involved in HSC’s Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos program. We also surveyed over 300 CPS parents and caregivers participating in our work, who identified mental health services and school food as their top concerns.
The draft wellness policy has some significant strengths as well as areas of concern. We applaud the district on the strong guidance it has included for ensuring safe and supportive environments, specifically acknowledging the challenges LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience. We are also pleased to see the policy’s stronger alignment with the CDC’s Whole School Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) framework.
HSC recommends that the draft policy be strengthened in the areas of implementation, accountability and transparency, and we have significant concerns about proposed changes that would result in weaker nutrition standards for the district’s school meal program. Families depend on schools to offer nutritionally balanced meals, and for students experiencing food insecurity, healthy school meals are essential.
Parent and caregiver feedback on the draft CPS wellness policy was in three main areas: the need for oversight of the policy to carefully track and measure implementation, instead of relying on school self-reporting; the need for clear implementation strategies, training and assistance for school staff and educators so they are well prepared to understand and fully implement policies; and the need for CPS to continue to be a national leader in school food policy, and not roll back its high nutrition standards.
We hope that CPS Board Members, leadership and staff carefully consider our recommendations and feedback prior to finalizing and approving a new Local School Wellness Policy for Students. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the district to create healthier school environments that ensure that all Chicago students can learn and thrive.