Edmonds School District bans birthday treats

EDMONDS — Classroom birthday parties here might be celebrated with gift pencils in lieu of cupcakes next year after the Edmonds School District’s Wellness Committee recently banned edible treats, an effort to promote healthful eating.

Although food items are prohibited for classroom birthday parties, food may be served at three seasonal, cultural or curriculum-related celebrations per school year.

“We want to celebrate the child and not the sweets,” said Maplewood Elementary School Principal Michelle Mathis at the regular Superintendent’s Roundtable on May 21.

The change in procedure was inspired by a new federal Wellness Policy, which requires superintendents to monitor nutritional standards for unregulated items such as food prepared by parent groups, vending-machine fare, student store offerings and classroom parties. The rules apply to participants in the National School Lunch Program or other federal child-nutrition programs.

The Edmonds School District Wellness Committee of educators, school nurses and administrators began discussions shortly after the Wellness Policy was adopted in 2012.

The federal policy does not apply to events after school hours, so concession stands at sporting events, for example, are not restricted.

The federal rule applies only to food sold to students, not given away. The Edmonds School District committee took it a step further by banning food at birthday celebrations.

So what do kids have to look forward to? Gift pencils, origami frogs and extra recess time are some of the favors offered instead of food at several schools in the district.

Three elementary schools had already banned birthday food at the discretion of teachers, parents and principals: Maplewood Elementary, Cedar Way Elementary and selected classrooms from Westgate Elementary.

Nationwide, only 7.3 percent of schools prohibit sugary items during classroom birthday parties and 6.4 percent disallow sweets for classroom holiday parties, according to a study by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

If every child in a classroom brings treats to birthday celebrations, “We’re not just talking about one cupcake a year, we’re talking about 25 cupcakes a year,” said DJ Jakala, the spokeswoman for the Edmonds School District.

“It is a philosophical transition,” Jakala said of the new rule.

Besides nutritional factors, the Edmonds district’s Wellness Committee based its decision on economics. Not all families can afford to send treats to school for a birthday celebration.

The school districts of Everett, Snohomish and Mukilteo still allow sweets at classroom birthday parties.

The Monroe School District encourages parents to bring nutritious snacks, according to district spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil. However, Monroe schools do not have a formal policy banning sweets.

Jakala said the Edmonds district has received three complaints about the new policy.

One opponent is Richard Martinson of Edmonds, whose grown children attended the schools here. He says that classroom birthday parties do not derail kids’ health and that some classroom parties might be the only celebration with friends a child might have.

“It’s a little bit of fun that makes school more bearable, and now it’s gone,” Martinson said.

Brenna Holland: 425-339-5350; bholland@heraldnet.com.

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