Better to let ‘em eat cake

It is a daily act of faith, a prayer-like moment when parents send their students off to school: “Please watch over these kids. Keep them away from harm. Send them home happy and whole.”

Even adults who dislike red tape feel some sympathy or understanding when schools adopt rules and policies meant to protect our children’s health and safety. This is a big job, and teachers and administrators should be praised for taking it seriously.

But with due respect for the Edmond School District, its decision to ban all edible treats from classroom birthday parties — while certainly well-intentioned — is a step too far.

First, think past the stereotypes. Children’s authors have always delighted in portraying schools as dreary places run by cranky kill-joys. (Search no further than Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.”) In contrast, those who oversee schools today seem painstakingly committed to creating wholesome learning environments.

But sometimes the enemy of wholesomeness is excessive wholesomeness.

The “cupcake ban” enacted by the Edmonds School District’s Wellness Committee is a policy now followed by only 7.3 percent of schools nationwide, according to the Daily Herald’s news reporting. This is not a mainstream position.

It is important for young people to embrace good nutrition and develop healthy lifestyles. But bureaucratic edicts, especially ironclad rules that exceed the standards held by many responsible parents, are bound to cause a backlash.

A cupcake every week or two will not make an active, healthy kid obese; nor will denial of cupcakes make an obese kid healthy. In fact, learning how to celebrate with food may be an antidote to compulsive eating habits.

Is there a danger that some types of homemade treats might trigger allergic reactions? Yes. But awareness of this problem now pervades schools, sports leagues and Sunday schools. If anything, a classroom party might be the easiest situation in which to monitor what a youngster consumes.

Is it awkward that some families can afford more elaborate treats than others? Certainly. Teachers or their classroom volunteers need to communicate this concern directly to parents — just as they communicate directly about other potential problems. (How hard is it to strongly suggest a modest dollar limit on the goods brought to school?)

After all, communication is essential. When teachers and administrators reach out to parents, their messages are usually beneficial and important. They deserve to be heard.

Severe policies, especially ones that seem a little far-out to many parents, erode the trust and respect that are the basis of good institutional communication.

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