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Legislation Seeks Healthier D.C. Schools

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Selena Smart prepares lunch for her two sons instead of letting them eat the lunches provided by their school.
Jessica Gould
Selena Smart prepares lunch for her two sons instead of letting them eat the lunches provided by their school.

By Jessica Gould

A bill before D.C. Council would radically transform health and nutrition at city schools.

It's chicken nugget day at Hearst Elementary, a public school in Northwest D.C. But not for Selena Smart's sons. She's making sandwiches.

"I've made here ham and cheese with organic mayonnaise on white bread," says Smart.

Most of the time, Smart opts out of the meals offered at Hearst.

"It's not something I would eat so if I'm not going to eat it, I'm not going to give it to my kids," she says.

That's why Smart says she supports the Healthy Schools Act, which Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh co-introduced with chairman Vincent Gray. Cheh explains.

"We want the best food ingredients. The most nutritional food available. And then we want some things unavailable. We don't want sugary drinks, for example," says Cheh.

Public Schools spokesperson Jennifer Calloway says the system is working hard to increase recycling and supply fresh produce to D.C. schools. But Cheh says the bill would go farther than that. It would increase physical education, establish school gardens, and require all schools to disclose the origins of their food.

"When they come to school, again they're in our care. Students can't learn if they're hungry or if they're ill," she says.

Cheh says she's still waiting to find out how much the reforms would cost.

"To the extent that it does cost money, I'm going to have to figure out where to get it. And I will. But there are other things we can do just because we're changing our behavior."

The council member says she'd like to see the new policies up and running by fall.

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