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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

TPS seeks spokesman to guide wellness plan

Toledo Public Schools officials are on the hunt for a health-and-fitness spokesman to help establish the federally required "wellness plan" that all districts nationwide must put in place before the start of next school year.

Some of the names mentioned yesterday by Toledo Public school board members included Toledo heavyweight boxer Devin Vargas and hometown basketball star Jimmy Jackson.

"We want someone who is going to give the importance to the issue that it deserves," said Robert Torres, chairman of the school board's policy committee. Neither Mr. Vargas nor Mr. Jackson could be reached for comment last night. Mr. Torres noted that the two local sports celebrities are great examples of the kind of spokesman needed.

Administrators at most Toledo-area and northwest Ohio school districts are preparing now with newly formed committees for the reauthorized Child Nutrition Act, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. It requires all school districts to put local "wellness plans" in place by the start of the 2006-2007 school year. Among the changes, school leaders say, could be healthier menu items and eliminating junk food - including selling it for fund-raising efforts.

In Toledo, a committee is expected to have its plan presented to the policy committee next month.

Al Stephens, director of health and physical education for Toledo Public Schools, said the plan is meant to help reverse a growing trend in America.

"The policy was created because the country has an obesity epidemic and Lucas County is right up there with everyone else," Mr. Stephens said.

Mr. Torres also suggested the school district invite representatives from organizations like the Toledo SeaGate Food Bank and Feed Lucas County Children, Inc. to participate in developing its wellness plan.

The federal Child Nutrition Act, which includes school nutrition programs, addresses the problem of childhood obesity. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in five American children is overweight.

Craig Cotner, TPS chief academic officer, said the district could change what it offers in vending machines for students and might have new regulations for what schools can sell for fund-raising.

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