By Joby Richard, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The House Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved three bills that would tell students on how to report dangerous social media posts, align nutrition rules for school snacks with federal standards, and let schools administer opioid antidotes to overdose victims.
One of the bills, by Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, would permit students to anonymously report dangerous social media posts to school administrators.
A second bill, by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, would match Louisiana’s guidelines on snacks sold in schools with U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines.
The third bill, sponsored by Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, would allow both private and public schools to administer on-campus naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose victims.
All three bills acknowledge that students who are well-nourished and feel safe in schools are better equipped to learn. The bills will go next to the House floor.
Against the backdrop of at least 17 U.S. school shootings thus far in 2018, Rep. Norton described her bill as “an effort to save some lives.”
Norton’s bill requires public K-12 schools and higher education institutions to instruct students on how to detect potential threats in social media posts. The schools also would have to establish reporting procedures and requirements for proving that the content was threatening.
The bill also requires school officials and campus security officers to further report online content to law enforcement agencies when it is deemed potentially dangerous.
In the early 2005, Louisiana adopted school snack guidelines at a time when no federal standards were available. Shortly after that, LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center developed a list of foods meeting the Louisiana Smart Snacks requirements.
By 2014, the USDA produced Smart Snack Standards, which are updated every five years. The USDA is also the agency that writes school meal-plan guidelines.
Hilferty’s bill would bring Louisiana into uniformity with USDA guidelines for snacks sold during the regulated “school day,” which is defined as a half-hour before school begins and extends to a half-hour after school dismisses.
Currently, food service personnel must abide by both the Louisiana and USDA guidelines even though the guidelines contain some differences.
Louisiana Smart Snacks caps snack calories at 150 calories, while USDA Standards set the cap at 200 calories.
Ashley Hebert, from the American Heart Association, opposed the bill because Louisiana is currently fourth in the nation in childhood obesity. Hebert said it does not make sense to increase the maximum calories allowed in an already obese state.
Hilferty responded that even though the calorie requirement is different, the USDA standards are more strenuous because the USDA requires the snack to either be 50 percent or more whole grains or for the first ingredient to be a member of one of the major food groups.
Although USDA does provide its own database of approved snacks, the bill does permit school officials to continue to use the Pennington list of approved snacks as a source of information.
According to Louisiana Smart Snacks, in-school fundraisers, such as candy sales, are currently forbidden because most candy does not meet nutritional requirements.
Hilferty’s bill would allow school districts to petition the state Education Department for an exemption from the USDA standard in fundraising.
Off-site fundraisers selling food, after-school concessions for athletic events, snacks brought from home, and class parties are not affected by adopting the USDA guidelines, although healthy choices are encouraged.
Rep. Miller’s bill permits all K-12 schools, both private and public, to maintain a supply of naloxone on-campus.
Naloxone is used to treat opioid overdose in emergency situations and reverses the effects of opioids, which include drowsiness, slowed breathing and loss of consciousness.
Miller explained that it can be administered by injection or by using a nasal spray.
He proposed this bill because opioid deaths have tripled since 1999.
Miller explained that the bill is not a mandate for schools, only an option. Schools choosing not to provide naloxone would not be subject to any civil liability.
Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, said she would like to work on an amendment with Miller to extend the option to higher education institutions as well.