News in Brief: A Washington Roundup

May 21, 2003 1 min read

Proposals Would Bar Requiring Medication

States would have to establish policies barring school officials from requiring that a child be medicated to attend school, under a measure approved last week by the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

Under the legislation, introduced by Rep. Max Burns, R-Ga., states that failed to do so could not receive federal education funds. The measure passed May 15 on a voice vote.

With about 5 percent of American children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, educators frequently have a role in spotting students who may have the condition and referring them for diagnosis and treatment. Many students with ADHD take stimulant drugs such as Ritalin.

Some critics say drugs are overprescribed for ADHD. However, national studies have noted the drug’s critical role in helping the children who need it. Some states already have similar laws that aim to prevent educators from influencing parents to seek drug therapy for their children.

—Lisa Goldstein

Schools’ Message Mixed On Nutrition, GAO Says

Federally subsidized school lunches are generally nutritious, and some districts have reduced meals’ fat and sodium content, according to a report from the General Accounting Office. But many students, it notes, add or replace those meals with unhealthy selections from school vending machines or snack counters.

“Many schools are sending a mixed message when they provide nutritious meals and encourage healthy choices, but at the same time rely on the sales of foods of limited nutritious value to fund school and student activities,” said the May 9 report by the investigative arm of Congress.

The report says 43 percent of elementary schools, 74 percent of middle schools, and 98 percent of high schools have vending machines, school stores, or snack bars that offer soft drinks and snacks high in fat, sodium, or added sugars. Only 19 percent of districts require schools to offer fruit and vegetables as a la carte items in school lunches, it says.

Food-service officials told GAO investigators they had to sell snack foods and other unhealthy items to break even financially. One district official said her operation sold about $600 a day in such extra items as pudding, toaster pastries, beef jerky, and cheese sticks.

—Mark Walsh