Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for October 2, 2006

Hey, it could've been worse...a big bowl of birthday spinach!

From The Seattle Times...

Make a wish on your birthday ... carrot?

By Seema Mehta
Los Angeles Times

The days of the birthday cupcake � smothered in a slurry of sticky frosting and with a dash of rainbow sprinkles � may be numbered in schoolhouses across the nation.

Fears of childhood obesity have led schools to discourage and sometimes ban what were once de rigueur grammar-school treats.

"They can bring carrots," said Laura Ott, assistant to the superintendent of Saddleback Valley Unified School District, in Orange County, Calif., which last month started limiting non-nutritious classroom treats to three times a year. "A birthday doesn't have to be associated with food."

Such nutritional dictates have ignited a series of mini cupcake rebellions across the country, with Texas leading the way.

The Texas Legislature last year passed the so-called Safe Cupcake amendment, which guarantees parents' right to deliver unhealthful treats to the classroom, such as sweetheart candies on Valentine's Day and candy corn on Halloween. Rep. Jim Dunnam sponsored the legislation after a school in his district booted out a father bringing birthday pizzas to his child's class.

"There's a lot of reasons our kids are getting fat," said Dunnam, D-Waco. "Cupcakes aren't one of them."

Locally, several school districts, including Seattle, Bellevue and Lake Washington, don't ban goodies as part of celebrations but encourage parents to bring healthful treats instead.

Packing on the pounds

Whether cookies, cakes and other birthday treats at school are the culprits or not, the nation's children are definitely packing on the pounds.

Nearly 19 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and more than 17 percent of adolescents 12 to 19 were overweight in 2003-04, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Extra weight carries health risks, as seen in the increasing childhood diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes.

Obesity concerns led to California's historic ban on junk-food and soda sales in schools that was signed into law last year. Recent laws by states and the federal government also have prompted school districts throughout the nation to overhaul their nutrition and wellness policies.

Districts are looking well beyond school lunches. They're looking at vending machines, band fundraisers, booster-club sales, treats as rewards from teachers, concession stands at football games � and birthday parties.

The crackdown on classroom cupcakes and cookies, a tradition fondly remembered by generations of parents, is often the touchiest.

"That's just ridiculous. Give me a break," said Alexandria Coronado, a member of the Orange County (Calif.) Board of Education and mother of a 15-year-old. "People kill for my fudge."

Although nutritionists endorse promoting healthful eating in schools, some question the logic of making any popular food taboo.

"The more you restrict these special foods � cakes or sweets or whatever � they become even more valued by children. It can almost kind of backfire," said Dr. Nancy Krebs, co-chairwoman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Task Force on Obesity.

When the Santa Clara Unified School District began reviewing its nutrition policy a year ago, public meetings devolved into shouting matches when the staff recommended banning all junk food from campus, including at football games.

"It got very heated," said Roger Barnes, an administrator of the 13,000-student district in Northern California.

In August, the district board decided to ban selling unhealthful food from vending machines and to prohibit teachers from dishing out candy as a reward, but it granted a reprieve to birthday cupcake parties and nachos at football games.

"They're trying to appease everyone," complained parent Noelani Sallings. "American waistlines are getting larger and larger."

The Westside Union School District in Lancaster, Calif., decided all classroom celebrations ought to be consolidated into one party a month and planned to emphasize healthful food in PTA and school newsletters but decided against a ban.

"We figured we'd ease into this slowly," said Marguerite Johnson, director of educational services in the 8,250-student district.

Some schools are going further.

In the Duxbury School District in Massachusetts, parents and educators on the Chandler School Council decided to forgo all classroom treats two years ago, Superintendent Eileen Williams said.

"The 'ban on cupcakes' was controversial as it was a long-standing tradition. But most adults could readily see once the new policy was put into place that the new ways of recognizing birthdays in school, including special clothing and seat covers made by the parents, were a delight for the children," she wrote in an e-mail.