New School Year, New Guidance: Let the Healthy Schools Program be your Guide to Updating your Wellness Policy

posted on Thu, Aug 4 2016 10:13 pm by Michelle Owens, National Policy Advisor

School and district wellness policies are the cornerstone for all school health-related initiatives. From physical education to classroom celebrations, they act as both a guide and an evaluation tool against which schools can benchmark their progress throughout the year.

Wellness policies are nothing new. Since 2004, districts participating in federal school meals programs have been required to establish wellness policies. The requirements for those policies were strengthened by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, but districts still lacked clear guidance around what should be included, who should be involved, and how often policies should be reviewed and updated.

On July 21, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a final rule that helps to clarify these uncertainties, making local wellness policies stronger than ever. Nationwide, districts need to start revising their policy by August 20, and need to fully comply with the requirements by June 30, 2017.

The Alliance is ready to be your guide throughout the revision process

As you kick off the 2016-17 school year, the Alliance will be offering a variety of tools and resources to set your school up for success. The USDA recommends using the Alliance’s Model Wellness Policy template, a new version of which will be available by mid-August that reflects the most recent changes.

In addition to the template, the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program provides several tools and resources to assist you with implementation:

  • Watch a video: Learn what the changes mean for you.



  • Ask questions: Use your Healthy Schools Program log-in to visit our new online community and speak with one of our National Advisors.
  • Save the date: The Alliance will be co-hosting a webinar on September 1 with representatives from the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s your cheat sheet about what’s new:

Increased compliance measures: State agencies are responsible for ensuring that schools comply with school wellness policy requirements as part of school nutrition services administrative review. Reviews happen every three years beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

  • New rules around foods available to students outside of meals: The school wellness policy also must include standards for foods and beverages made available on the school campus during the school day including during celebrations, parties, and more.
  • New guidance for marketing of foods at school: The final rule clarifies that any foods and beverages marketed to students in school must meet Smart Snacks Nutrition standards. In other words: if you can’t sell it, you can’t market it!
  • Changes to how often schools need to report on their progress. The final rule says that districts must make their wellness policy available annually to the school community parents, students and community stakeholders.
  • Improved guidance about monitoring and evaluation: School records must include the written school wellness policy, documentation of compliance with community involvement requirements, documentation of assessment and compliance with the public notification requirements.

While beginning the revision process may seem daunting, remember that the Alliance’s National Advisors are here to help. Back in 2014, Director of Nutrition Services Jennifer Tatro of Kansas’s Hutchinson Public School District was able to successfully update her district’s policy with support from the Healthy Schools Program. Now, Jennifer says, “On the third Tuesday of every month, we celebrate birthdays in the lunchroom. We set up a special table for birthday students and invite their parents to join them for lunch and they’re given a special treat, such as a 100% juice cup.”

After all, the purpose of updating these policies is to ensure that wherever students are on campus, at any time of day, they are able to make choices that support their health. Now, isn’t that a worthy goal?