Wellness Policy under consideration

Ohio law requires school districts to have a Wellness Policy.  Milford’s current policy, developed in 2006, has addressed wellness curriculum, community education, physical activity, and food for sale.

However, starting this year, our elementary schools have instituted a new policy to help keep all our students safer.  A number of students have life-threatening allergies or other physical issues that make it extremely challenging to bring food into the classroom to be served to all students.

Because of this, the elementary schools have instituted a policy that any food coming in to the building to be served to students must be in a labeled package, allowing teachers and administrators to see what is in the item before it is served to students.  Home-made items, while delicious, are too dangerous for students with various food issues – oftentimes, even trace amounts of something can make a child severely ill, or even cause death.  In fact, in Chicago just a few months ago, a 13-year-old student died as a result of a peanut allergy from Chinese food that was brought in to school – even though the restaurant assured the teacher beforehand that the food did not contain peanuts or peanut oil. (Read Chicago Tribune article)

Because of the growing prevalence of food allergies, and in an effort to take the district to the “next step” in encouraging healthy eating habits, the board will be revising the Wellness Policy not only to meet new requirements set out by the state, but also to help protect and support all our students.

All policies require at least two readings.  This is to allow the board and community to discuss the policy, research, and consider various ramifications before voting.  Last night, we had the first reading of the new Wellness Policy, which generated a great amount of discussion.  The specific area of concern is the statement, “There will be no food served in the classroom at anytime with the exception of the school sponsored breakfast program, snacks for an individual student brought from home by that student each day, or specified on a student’s Individual Education Plan.”

This means parties will no longer include food; students will not be able to bring in treats for birthdays; teachers will not be able to use food for rewards or in educational plans; and teachers will not be able to provide snacks for students.  The only food a student will be allowed to eat, outside of food purchased from the cafeteria during meal times, is food s/he brings from home.  Instead of food, parties will need to revolve around activities, crafts, and “favors” parents can bring instead.

The discussion was long and covered a lot of topics.  Deborah Talbert, President of the Milford Education Association, spoke about the teachers’ concerns, saying they felt the policy went too far.  She explained teachers sometimes use food for specific lesson plans, and this would limit their ability to do that.  On the other side, Gary Schulte, Principal of Mulberry Elementary, spoke about the problems that result when food that contains allergens and food that is unlabeled is brought in to the classroom.  He explained this not only is embarrassing, uncomfortable and disappointing for the child with the problem, but it can affect the child whose parent brought the food that can’t be served; the parent him/herself, who is upset the food can’t be served; the principal, who’s the bad guy; and the teacher, who’s caught in the middle.  He says even when specific food lists are distributed and parents sign up for specific items, other items “get in” to the school, causing problems and disruption at times that should be fun.

One parent spoke about limiting food at parties to “healthier” choices, such as fruit and veggie trays, which would eliminate the more common allergens (such as peanuts, nuts, wheat, dairy).  Director of HR Tim Ackermann said there are even some students who have fruit allergies.

Several parents contacted board members about the policy prior to the meeting, expressing concern they cannot celebrate a birthday with their child’s favorite treat, or hold a class party with snacks.

Following this discussion, the board asked for more information from the district.  Specifically, the district will be collecting more data on what other school districts are doing; obtain input from teachers; and talk with parents.  We have several months before this must be voted on, so please provide your input, either here, by email to me, or to Dr. Farrell.

4 Responses to “Wellness Policy under consideration”

  1. Brenda Ely Says:

    Interesting topic. I can see both sides of this one. Over the years, I have enjoyed baking homemade goodies for class parties and letting my children “order” their favorite birthday treats to share with the class. I understand why some parents might be disappointed at the notion that this practice be banned. Our culture has a long tradition of using food to celebrate and reward.
    Unfortunately, passing this tradition along to our children is contributing to an increase in obesity and the many health issues that are tied to overindulging in the wrong kinds of foods. Our curriculum may teach children to use the right kinds of food to fuel their bodies, but when we introduce food as a reward for good work in school or as part of a celebration, we are also teaching them to use food to feel good and as recreation. While our culture has used food this way for centuries, we need to set a better example for our kids. Eating to celebrate is our tradition. It doesn’t have to be our children’s tradition.
    I would also point our that foods made in home kitchens may or may not be safe for our kids. Not everyone keeps a sanitary kitchen, washes hands well before touching food, covers their coughs and sneezes well and keeps the family pet off the counter. It is impossible to know the conditions under which foods have been made or stored or the germs they may have been exposed to. That is another good reason to take another look at this policy.
    I am interested to know how the board might feel about allowing some expections, for curricular purposes only, that must be approved by administration. These might include ethnic foods, for a class studying another culture, science labs that look at how ingredients react to each other, etc. These exceptions would need approval in advance and the administrator would be required to consider any food allergies, diabetes, religious or other dietary restrictions. The food could be prepared in our own kitchens under appropriate conditions. Food is an important part of our culture and our lives. To totally ban it in our classrooms may be a little harsh.

  2. andreabrady Says:

    Thanks for the response, Brenda. We’ve asked the teachers for specific input on their concerns – I’m assuming things like you just named would be their primary focus. We are also asking for input from parents, and we’ll review input from administrators. Hopefully we can come up with a policy that keeps our children as safe as possible, is as fair as possible to everyone involved (children & adults alike), yet does not stifle the ability for our teachers to provide creative, meaningful, fun lessons.

  3. mary gallagher Says:

    As a parent of a child with life-threatening food allergies, I can say that packaged foods give a parent a level of safety that homebaked goods do not. There have been many instances where friends and family have assured me that their food was dairy-free only to find out they really don’t know how to identify hidden forms of dairy. I do not allow my child to eat anything from anywhere unless I have baked/cooked it or can read the label. Even labels can be wrong and food can be contaminated but it is a start. Young children may believe a baked good to be “safe” because he has had something similar and may not realize that it is not something he should eat. Adults and teachers in the room cannot supervise every second of child’s activities and working parents cannot always be present at all parties in the classroom. Better to be safe than sorry and avoid a catastrophe.

  4. Cat Turner Says:

    While I think it’s “fun” to bake and bring in treats for our children’s birthdays AND have snacks, etc. for parties and school events, I’ve found that in MOST situations the food provided is of the high fat/sugar/preservative variety. I noticed starting in preschool when a “healthy snack” was provided by rotating moms there was a large spectrum of what was considered healthy. For the most part, I agree that only commercial snacks should be provided but even with those they aren’t always healthy.

    When it comes to parties, there tends to be a focus on decorating a sweet treat, then the children are served a sweet treat AND given a goodie bag to go home. I notice that the kids really do like the art/craft activities and the change in the schedule that the party provides more than the treat provided, at least in the classroom parties that I have participated in. I don’t think the snacks and treats will be greatly missed, and while I do NOT have a child with allergies, I am all too aware of food allergies and sensitivities cause problems both in and out of the classroom.

    Starting the tradition of celebratory eating does not need to be something learned in the classroom…I think it’s a good idea to leave the treats at home and come up with a alternative activity or favor for parties and birthdays. The treats will not be missed!

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