Wellness Policy Annual Report Update: 2019-2020 School Year

Prepared by the New York City Department of Education’s Office of School Wellness Programs 

As stated in the New York City Department of Education Wellness Policy, the District Wellness Advisory Council compiles and publishes an annual report to share basic information about the wellness policy, and report on the DOE’s overall progress with implementing wellness goals. The DOE Wellness Policy is available to the public on the DOE’s InfoHub, accessible at https://infohub.nyced.org/in-our-schools/policies/doe-wellness-policy


When students learn about their bodies, nurture their minds, and develop the skills to take care of themselves and others, they are better prepared to succeed in school and in life. That’s why, in New York City schools, we invest in and promote strong physical and health education instruction, free nutritious meals, and opportunities for students to practice healthy behaviors before, during, and after school. The DOE outlines expectations for schools in the NYC DOE’s Wellness Policy

The DOE Wellness Policy describes laws and recommendations that make up our approach to physical and health education (both of which include nutrition education), food and nutrition promotion, physical activity, school wellness councils, and other wellness-related areas. Based on the national Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model for addressing health, wellness, and student achievement, the DOE Wellness Policy shows schools and communities important opportunities for staff, caregivers, and organizations to collaborate around and make connections with the two instructional areas of the model: Physical Education (PE) and Health Education. By approaching student wellness from an instructional, skills-building lens, it is easy to see how opportunities, programs, and services can more purposefully support what students learn in standards-based PE and Health Education class. Connecting what students learn with what they experience in the school environment helps staff focus on consistent messaging that can empower students to make good choices. 

The DOE Wellness Policy outlines the role of the District Wellness Advisory Council, which meets quarterly to recommend, review, and support the implementation of Citywide policies and practices addressing wellness-related issues. Part of the council’s responsibility is to review district-level PE and Health Education initiatives and information from the previous year and offer recommendations that might enhance implementation in schools. The District Wellness Advisory Council’s sponsoring DOE office, the Office of School Wellness Programs, with contributions from the Office of Food and Nutrition Services and the Office of Sustainability, are the Central-level reporting offices under the DOE Wellness Policy and prepare the annual update once data from the previous year is available.

District Wellness Advisory Council work will resume fully in the 2021-2022 school year. Previous recommendations are available in the 2018-2019 report

Impact of COVID-19 on 2019-2020 Council Activities 

The closing of New York City schools in March 2020 and New York State’s subsequent shutdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the functions and work of the District Wellness Advisory Council in spring 2020. The combination of rapidly changing circumstances, redeployed Central staff, and reduced resources produced an interruption in the compilation and review of 2019-2020 school year data. At the same time, the District Wellness Advisory Council was in the midst of re-assessing its own structure and composition with an eye toward assembling a more inclusive and representative Council. A new council will be launched in the 2021-2022 school year.

Physical Education Update 

Physical education (PE) is a required academic subject that teaches participation in lifelong, health-enhancing physical activity. In PE, students learn to work as a team, develop healthy personal fitness habits, and set fitness goals now and throughout their lives. City Council Local Law 102, enacted in 2015, requires the Department of Education of the New York City School District to submit to the New York City Council an annual report concerning Physical Education for the prior school year. See the Physical Education Report for 2019-2020. The report typically includes average frequency and total minutes per week of PE, per grade, at the school, district, borough, and Citywide levels to ensure schools are meeting State PE regulations. With the shift to remote learning in March 2020, New York State waived instructional seat time requirements for all academic subjects for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. As a result, PE instructional data in 2019-2020 are based on data collected mid-year, which includes instruction that was received, as well as instruction that was scheduled for the remainder of the school year, as of February 26, 2020, prior to the disruptions of COVID-19. The report also includes the number of licensed PE teachers, class ratios, and designated PE instructional space.

In 2019-20120, NYC schools continue to show gains in the numbers and percentages of students receiving PE that meets State requirements as a result of the Citywide PE Works Initiative, a multi-year initiative to improve PE in New York City schools.  

Overall, in 2019-2020 schools reported that 86.4% of K-12 students Citywide received or were scheduled to receive the required amount of PE instruction, compared to 53.3% of students in 2015-2016, the PE Works pilot year. In 2015-2016, only one in four elementary school students received the required amount of PE, with staffing reports and pilot year needs assessments suggesting that even fewer students received it prior to 2015. In 2019-2020, 81.8% of elementary students received or were scheduled to receive PE. To learn more, see: 

The closing of New York City schools in March 2020 and New York State’s subsequent shutdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic required new ways to continue to provide students with safe PE and physical activity opportunities:

  • DOE opened Regional Enrichment Centers (REC) across the City to serve the children of frontline workers. REC programming included partner-provided socially distanced, no-equipment physical activities for students of all ages throughout the day, including dedicated fitness activities taught by DOE coaches in the afternoon hours. 
  • To serve the online learning needs of students Citywide, the DOE 
    • made weekly remote instructional lessons and resources available to teachers;
    • launched online PE Professional Learning Communities to keep PE teachers connected; and
    • provided at-home ideas and activities for families on the DOE website.  

In preparation for the 2020-2021 school year, Central staff 

  • prepared Physical Education guidance and expectations to ensure PE remained a priority for hybrid and remote students;
  • developed an Outdoor Learning proposal to promote outdoor spaces as the safest places for PE and physical activity; and 
  • promoted the value of PE and physical activity in return-to-school plans and guidelines as a key component of student resiliency.

Comprehensive Health Education Update 

Health Education provides students with the skills to navigate growing up, and the tools to care for themselves and others throughout their lives, while contributing to a positive school environment. Quality Health Education can change perspectives, transform behaviors, and help students learn and mature. It builds a foundation for lifelong learning, cooperation, and participation in families, communities, and our society. It also creates opportunities to engage families in supporting their child’s development and provides school communities with a way to establish a school culture that supports student well-being.

City Council Local Laws 14 and 15, enacted in 2016, require that the Department of Education of the New York City School District submit to NYC City Council an annual report concerning health education for the prior school year. See the Health Education reports for 2019-2020. The reports include Health Education compliance and instructor data, disaggregated by community school district, City Council district, and each individual school. With the shift to remote learning in March 2020, New York State waived instructional seat time requirements for all academic subjects for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. As a result, Health Education instructional data for grades 6-8 in 2019-2020 are based on data collected mid-year, which includes instruction that was received, as well as instruction that was scheduled for the remainder of the school year, as of February 26, 2020, prior to the disruptions of COVID-19. 

The 2019-2020 data show how much critical work is required in NYC schools and, consistent with national data, reflect that Health Education has not been an area of focus for many decades. Quality health education requires teachers who are trained and supported in order to provide students with medically accurate, inclusive, and developmentally appropriate instruction. Yet teachers assigned to health classes may not have adequate preparation or guidance. Students’ opportunities to learn critical Health Education skills vary considerably from school to school. For example, in 2019-2020:

  • While a majority of high school students are scheduled and receive a graduation credit for the half-semester course, about half of NYC students in grades 6-8 finished middle school without having comprehensive Health Education instruction.
  • There were just 155 licensed health instructors in New York City, and few teachers assigned to teach health attended professional learning.

As a result of this data, in alignment with previous recommendations from the District Wellness Advisory Council(see the 2017-2018 Wellness Policy Annual Report), the Sexual Health Education Task Force , and others, in May 2018, the Chancellor announced Health Ed Works. The goal of this multiyear initiative is to ensure that more New York City students receive comprehensive Health Education that meets New York State Education Department requirements and helps them develop the skills to make healthy decisions and avoid high-risk behaviors throughout their lives. In the 2019-2020 school year, staff in the DOE’s Office of School Wellness Programs provided targeted resources to address key components of quality Health Education, including staffing, scheduling, and instructional quality, in a cohort of 250 schools. To learn more, see: 

The closing of New York City schools in March 2020 and New York State’s subsequent shutdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic required new ways to continue to provide students with health education instruction. To serve the online learning needs of students Citywide, the DOE

  • made remote Health Education instructional lessons and resources available to teachers, especially lessons related to infectious disease prevention, mental and social-emotional health, and analyzing trusted health information resources;
  • launched an online Health Education Professional Learning Community to keep teachers connected; and
  • provided at-home ideas and activities for families on the DOE website.

In preparation for the 2020-21 school year, Central staff prepared Health Education guidance and expectations to ensure the most relevant health lessons and skills were a priority for hybrid and remote students and that strategies and activities were included in return-to-school plans and guidelines as a key component of student health, safety and resiliency. 

School Food and Nutrition Information 

The Office of Food and Nutrition Services provides nutrient-rich options that students of all ages and backgrounds will love. Meals maintain high nutrition standards that meet and many times exceed USDA standards for school meals, with whole grain rich products, reduced sodium, and only fat-free flavored milk. Our menus and water services are created to make sure that students get the nutrients they need to think clearly and concentrate on learning.

We do not use food additives such as artificial colors or flavors, non-nutritious sweeteners, or high-fructose corn syrup. We continuously review ingredients to ensure the best possible food is served to our students.

For more information about our menus, nutrition information, or programs, email us at SFWebsitesuggestion@schools.nyc.gov

The DOE continues to adhere to competitive food and beverage guidelines referenced in the DOE Wellness Policy and detailed in the Chancellor’s Regulation on Competitive Foods (CR A-812).

The DOE’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services operates quarterly partner meetings to develop, maintain, and help connect members of the school, nutrition, food justice, food access, and sustainability communities. Just as the Wellness Policy encourages schools to foster food service outreach and collaboration with instructional and environmental staff through School Wellness Councils, the Office of Food and Nutrition Services seeks that same Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community approach with New York City’s strong food community. See additional important information about Office of Food and Nutrition Services on the Food page of the DOE website. Also, Local Law 215 requires DOE to create a report on meals served by DOE to students in school, including breakfast served before school, breakfast served after the school day begins, lunch, afterschool snacks and afterschool suppers. To learn more, see: 

Impact of COVID-19 on Foodservices in 2019-2020

The closing of New York City schools in March 2020 and New York State’s subsequent shutdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic required immediate action to ensure that students and families had access to high quality food, despite school buildings being closed. As NYC schools closed, DOE mobilized to provide grab-and-go meals to students and their families Citywide. Essential dining services workers rallied to support their communities from day one, and continue to do so. Students attending schools remotely or their parents/caregivers could pick up a free breakfast and lunch at most DOE school buildings. Take-out meals for students were available on school days only from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The DOE also made free meals available daily for all New Yorkers afterschool at more than 200 locations across the city. 

Creating a more food secure community is always a DOE priority, but the pandemic created new food insecurity across the City. We remain committed to doing our part to provide students and families with food support during this pandemic or any emergency effecting our City.  

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