The days of bringing cakes, cookies, and other treats into Sandwich classrooms to celebrate a holiday or birthday are over.
The Sandwich School Committee recently adopted a new policy that forbids food-sharing in the district’s classrooms.
The policy is meant to address the concerns of parents of students with potentially debilitating food allergies and help combat childhood obesity.
Under the newly adopted measure, food brought in from home by “students or parents for parties or celebrations is not allowed in the classroom, and will be sent home with the student or parent/guardian at the end of the school day.”
Other stipulations include no use of food as a reward or incentive during the school day and a prohibition on food “for the purpose of fundraising.” The policy also requires that teachers consult with the school nurse at least two days in advance, and get the approval of the school principal, before using food as part of classroom instruction.
School Nurse Leader Carilyn A. Rains initially presented the committee with the policy during its regular meeting on June 6. In a PowerPoint presentation, Ms. Rains showed the committee that a total of 64 students in the Sandwich School District have some form of life-threatening allergy to food. She said that the allergies run the gamut, from gluten to eggs, milk and peanuts. She said that this past year alone, three students had reactions that were severe enough to require the administering of epinephrine, a medicine often used to treat asthmatic attacks.
Ms. Rains also showed that testing of body mass index among students in grades 1, 4, 7and 10 revealed an increase in overweight or obese children for several years. She said that since 2008, the rate has been at or slightly above 25 percent. The good news, she said, is that this past year, the rate dipped to 22.5 percent.
Ms. Rains said that the amount of time that classroom celebrations take away from instruction was another reason for adopting the policy. She said that the policy also addresses any socio-economic embarrassment among classmates that might arise from one family being able to afford a more lavish celebration than another.
The school committee was divided on whether to adopt the measure.
Chairman Andrea M. Killion questioned how the new policy would fit within the guidelines of the existing wellness policy for the schools. She noted that the present policy was included in newly revised sections of the school district’s overall policy manual that had been handed out to the board just that night. Committee member Anita M. Johnston pointed out that both the wellness policy and the no food in the classroom policy stipulate that food will not be used as a reward.
“So, we’re adding something that we currently already have,” Ms. Killion said.
Ms. Rains told the committee that she considers the two policies “two separate entities” and it would be good to compare and contrast what the current wellness policy states. She said that the current wellness policy needs to be reviewed by the committee and updated, “but I would consider the no food in the classroom piece to be an addendum to the current policy,” Ms. Rains said.
“I would like to look at both of these together, before we’re going to vote on it, just to see what the overlap is and what we’re looking to replace, where this is not a new policy, we currently have policy and so we have something to go by,” Ms. Killion said.
Several members pointed out that the “no food in the classroom” policy would not replace anything in the wellness policy. Instead it would be melded into what is already in existence.
“We’re not replacing, we’re just adding to,” Ms. Crossman said.
Ms. Johnston disagreed with the policy’s requirement that a school nurse be consulted as part of the procedure before any classroom activity involving food. Ms. Johnston said she would prefer to see the policy read that the principals are responsible for giving the approval, and they have the discretion of seeking the advice of the school nurse.
“It’s a bit concerning to me that we have the school nurses as a consultant on curriculum,” she said. Her preference would be that any questions about the use of food go straight to the principal. She noted that teachers are professionals, who have been provided with any Individualized Education Plans.
“They all know what the issues are, and I have some problems with that wording,” Ms. Johnston said.
In response to Ms. Johnston’s concerns, Ms. Rains said that nurses were not looking to be considered an expert in the area of curriculum. She also cautioned that many times a student’s individualized education plan does not have food allergies noted in them.
In the end, the policy was approved 4-2, with both Ms. Killion and Ms. Johnston voting against it.