If you’ve been reading TLT for a while, you know there was a time when it seemed like I was talking 24/7 about my opposition to birthday treats in school classrooms.
The ubiquitous in-class birthday cupcake (or cookies or ice cream or candy) was the subject of one of my very first posts on this blog, and then a libertarian mom took issue with me and the debate heated up. I wrote about the issue again when Sarah Palin made the treats in classrooms a conservative rallying cry and again when I was flooded with reader comments about that post. And I didn’t stop there – I wrote about banning birthday treats for my local free newspaper, I guest posted about it on The Wellness Bitch, and I was even quoted on the issue by the Atlantic Monthly‘s Newswire. (Frankly, by then even I was getting sick of hearing myself expound on the subject.)
So of course it was with great interest that I read last week (via a tip from PEACHSF‘s Facebook page) that a school district in north central Illinois has decided to ban in-class birthday treats in all of its elementary schools.
Interestingly, the reasons cited in favor of the ban were not just rising rates of obesity (although that was clearly a factor in the Mendota school board’s decision) but also an issue much discussed in my posts above, namely, the legitimate safety concerns of the ever-growing number of parents with food allergic children. According to the news report, the district nurse who briefed the school board on the issue mentioned the specter of “cross-contamination in home kitchens,” as well as the fact that birthday treats mean that “staff members need to learn the many ways food allergies can affect a child and have plans in place for each child with a known allergy.”
Another problem with birthday treats (apart from nutritional concerns) was cited by two Mendota principals in favor of the ban (and also raised by some teachers in response to various Lunch Tray posts about this issue): namely, the lost instructional time when teachers must dole out treats, wait for them to be eaten, and clean up afterwards. When treats are brought in several times a month, this is not an insignificant problem.
A few years ago, my adopted state of Texas passed –I kid you not — a “Safe Cupcake Amendment” to make sure nothing infringed on parents’ apparently inalienable right to bring their children a sugary birthday treat at school. But maybe the Mendota school district is a bellwether. Rising childhood obesity rates alone might not have been enough, but maybe obesity plus the documented rise in childhood food allergies plus the pressure on teachers created by “No Child Left Behind” could finally kill the birthday cupcake tradition for good.
Or am I dreaming here?