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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION

USDA Proposes CTE Waiver for School Nutrition Regulations

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July 1, 2013

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USDA Proposes CTE Waiver for School Nutrition Regulations

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final version of new regulations to establish national nutritional standards for all foods sold to students in schools. The nutritional standards—authorized by section 208 of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010—specifically address “competitive foods” that are sold in schools outside of the school breakfast and lunch programs. Though intended to target foods sold in vending machines, al a carte lines and school stores, the stricter guidelines could impact CTE programs that have incorporated into their course curriculum a student-run café, bakery or other school-based business that sells food.  ACTE has been actively engaged in this issue since the law was originally proposed in 2010. Following a strong reaction from the CTE community in public comments on the draft version of the regulations in April, the USDA has agreed to provide a special CTE exemption! CTE programs that are not able to meet the new nutrition guidelines for instructional reasons will be eligible to apply for a waiver from the department.

The draft version of the regulations proposed by the USDA, released earlier this year, did not specifically address the potential impact on CTE programs. ACTE, along with the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc), sent a letter to the USDA requesting an exemption for CTE programs that prepare and sell foods for instructional purposes. The department has responded with a new regulatory framework that recognizes the importance of CTE programs in preparing students to enter careers in the food service industry and addresses the special challenges that the regulations may create for teachers and students. “Students are preparing to enter the workforce where the nutritional standards and requirements may vary widely from those required under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP),” wrote the department.  “Applying the nutrition standards for competitive food to these programs may limit the skill development necessary for careers in the food industry. Therefore, in recognition of the potential conflict of legislative intent, the Department is willing to consider each situation on a case by case basis, and provide a waiver where appropriate.”

The USDA also clarified that the nutritional standards apply only to foods sold to students and not adult or community patrons, a detail not included in the original law but that was specifically pointed to as a concern by ACTE in previous communications with the department. 

The new regulations will not go into effect until July 1, 2014, for the 2014-15 school year, allowing states and districts a full year to implement the new standards. Though the details of the waiver option have not yet been specifically outlined, ACTE will continue to work with the department to ensure a clearly defined process that is not overly burdensome for CTE programs, and will let you know as soon as more details are available. To view the final rule and determine its impact on any food sales you or your students are currently engaged in, please visit the USDA website.

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