Editors note: Jen Marx writes a weekly parenting column, Edmonds Kind of Play, about local kid-friendly activities. Because she is an Edmonds School District parent, we asked her to take a closer look at the new school district wellness policy that has generated significant media attention in the past week — given its limits on sugary food during the school day.
By now, you have probably heard that as a part of the Edmonds School Distict’s Wellness Policy, effective July 1, kids will no longer be able to bring treats to school to celebrate their birthdays. I have seen a wide, and somewhat extreme, range of responses on local and social media. After reading those responses and the new rules, guidelines and recommendations, I spoke with Edmonds School District spokeswoman DJ Jakala and Food Services Director Barb Lloyd, the chair of the district’s Wellness Committee. I thought it would be good to get some clarification, to see who actually made the decisions, and most importantly — to me anyway — to find out what this would really mean for the next school year.
First, there is new U.S. Department of Agricultre legislation regarding what food may be sold on school campuses, including “vending machines, school stores, a la carte lines and all fundraisers.” These regulations dictate that any food sold must meet the federal “Smart Snacks in School” standards and are a nationwide, federal mandate and not a local decision. It affects the food sold between midnight and a half an hour after school lets out. There is a penalty if any school is found out of compliance and the $3 million dollars that the Edmonds School District’s school meal’s program receives would be at stake.
While the federal government did mandate that the district have a Wellness Policy and that it include the regulations on food sold at school, the ban on birthday treats and the policy of discouraging of food used as an “incentive or reward” are local decisions made by the Wellness Committee. These local decisions were set in motion when, according to Jakala, “parents and teachers went to the district leadership two years ago asking for help to cut sugar in the classrooms.”
Per the Edmonds School District, “Birthday parties in classrooms may be celebrated with non-food treats and favors for students. No food is allowed as part of a birthday celebration. This decision is not just based on what the kids are consuming in class, but also and “economic” one. Lloyd explained some kids don’t mention it is their birthday in class knowing that their families can’t afford to treat a classroom full of kids. In years past, rules for birthday celebrations have been included in the beginning-of-the-year handouts I’ve gotten from my kids’ teachers. I can imagine that what teachers will allow in class regarding non-food treats and favors will be included this year.
Now, this new rule doesn’t mean that your kid will never see a cupcake in class again. Food may be served at three classroom celebrations a year, either seasonal, cultural or curriculum related. It is up to each teacher to decide for his or her classroom which parties they have and when. Barb Lloyd explained that the only restriction on the food at class celebrations is that of Snohomish County Health District in their “Food Safety Guidelines For Room Parties.”
I was surprised when Lloyd told me both Cedar Way Elementary and Maplewood Parent Cooperative have already eliminated treats as a part of school birthday celebrations. There are also classrooms at both Edmonds and Westgate Elementary whose teachers had already adopted a no-treat policy. Jakala, who is also a mom to a student in one of the schools with no birthday treats allowed, says the difference with less sugar in the classroom is noticeable and with taking the focus off the treat, it really gives the class a chance to “celebrate the child.” For instance, her child was given a card made by the whole class and unlike a treat, her student “still has the card.” When the decision was made at her student’s school, Jakala remembers that parents were concerned. Now that the ban on birthday treats is firmly in place Jakala’s own student told her, “the kids don’t care.”
I wanted to know how this would affect some of the things we are looking forward to in the upcoming school year and asked both Lloyd and Jakala specific questions about each.
My youngest son is about to start kindergarten and I am excited to take him to the school’s Harvest Festival. This party includes trying to eat donuts suspended from above by strings without using your hands, a cake walk and all kinds of treats and candy prizes. I was told that since an event like this is more than a half hour after school, it is not subject to the “Smart Snacks in Schools” mandate and there are no restrictions. This also goes for after-school sporting events, school dances, science fairs and other events that sell/provide food more than a half hour after school.
Summer Assignment Reward Lunches
Upon returning to school, my oldest son can earn lunch with his teacher from this past school year, if he completes a summer assignment, and the teacher will be providing dessert. While food being used as an incentive/reward, as in this case, is “strongly” discouraged, those who chose to do so must follow the USDA “Smart Snacks in School” guidelines, Lloyd said.
While this affects selling candy during school for fundraisers, Lloyd explained that cookie dough sales were not affected because the dough would not be consumed at school.
The school district has received both complaints (Lloyd says “intrusion” has been the biggest complaint) as well as “thank you” notes from relieved parents who are happy to cut down the classroom treats. If you have any questions, the school district says, call Barb Lloyd at the district office at 425-431-7000.
– By Jennifer Marx
Jen Marx, an Edmonds Mom of two young boys, is a traffic reporter by dawn and writer and PBJ maker by day. She is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time. You can find her trying to make sense of begging kids to ” just eat the mac n cheese” at SnackMomSyndrome.com. If you have a kid-friendly event you’d like to share, email her at [email protected].