By Anesta Henry
Trade unionist Caswell Franklyn is strongly opposed to authorities requiring teachers to monitor what students eat under the National School Nutrition Policy which took effect on Tuesday.
He insisted that not only are teachers not legally obligated to do so, but they would be out of order to tell children not to eat what their parents gave them to take to school.
Furthermore, Franklyn contended that instead of introducing this policy, the Government “should have instead put policies in place to make healthy foods cheaper”.
“I am not in agreement with this policy, period; it does not make sense. This is not right and we have some teachers and principals who think it is their duty to terrorise children, so this is just one avenue for them to do it. Sensible teachers would say to the people, ‘I am very sorry, that is not my job and I am not doing it, I am here to teach. I am not a policeman guarding people’s lunch bags’.
“I understand that some teachers support it and they will do it, but if the child comes to school with something that their parents can afford but it is not what the Government wants, you will take it away from them?” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY.
King’s Counsel Hal Gollop agreed it would be difficult to force teachers to police their students’ eating habits.
“I don’t see how you can say that a teacher has a legal responsibility to tell a child or anybody what that person can eat or drink as long as it is not something prescribed by law. Unless it is proscribed, I don’t see how a teacher can say to a student ‘you can’t drink mauby or you can’t eat fishcakes’,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“So what the objectives of this initiative are come down to a matter of good sense and whether the teachers then see it as part of their professional responsibility to try to enforce these measures and whether they extend to curricular or extracurricular, and that is where the professional [aspect] of the teacher comes in to play.”
During a meeting with officials from the Ministry of Health, at the Wildey Gymnasium a day before the implementation of the policy, primary and secondary school teachers were advised they would be tasked with monitoring what students eat in schools to ensure they do not consume unhealthy snacks and beverages on school premises.
Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw said teachers had to play a critical role in helping reduce the pressure of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) on the public healthcare system.
Some teachers raised concern about the added responsibility but president of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Rudy Lovell said the educators were willing to give it a try.
However, Franklyn contended that the policy was not well thought through before implementation.
“All of these products that are sold at the schools I assume are legal products and I am very doubtful that a parent would put contraband in their child’s lunch. Now, this is a problem where the Government comes up with an idea, doesn’t think it through to the end for a logical conclusion, and comes up with nonsense.
”Now, it is a desirable goal for children to eat healthy but eating healthy in Barbados is rather expensive. So what the Government should have been doing before it implements such nonsense, is to make the foods that are healthy less expensive than what they are now,” Franklyn said.
The former Opposition Senator added: “I go to supermarkets myself and sometimes I have to think twice about picking up stuff. We have parents who are general workers and working at gas stations and cannot afford to feed their children, and now you are going to enforce restrictions on them without giving them any help.
“People are already struggling to feed their children on the meagre salaries that they make. You are free to eat healthy or not, that is your choice, and I believe most people would eat healthily if they could afford it.”
The National School Nutrition Policy, developed with the help of the Barbados Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition and other stakeholders, outlines that high-sodium snacks and beverages with added sugars will not be allowed on school premises.
Snacks on the approved list include plain or lightly salted popcorn, granola, mini pretzels, digestive biscuits, plantain chips, nuts and raisins, mixed nuts, cassava chips and fruit cups.
Allowed beverages include water, non-sugar-flavoured water, drinks with no added sugar, 100 per cent fruit juice, 100 per cent vegetable juice, coconut water, sparkling water, reduced-fat milk, and unsweetened hemp milk.