WARREN, NJ - The cupcakes are saved, for now. The Warren Township Board of Education discussed a proposed change in the district's food and nutrition policy at its Monday meeting and decided to take more time for discussion. In addition, many members of the board voiced the opinion that if the policy is changed, it would not take effect until September 2016.
The Warren Township Board of Education Policy Committee has been examining the district’s policy and regulation regarding food in the schools, including food at in-school birthday celebrations. Board Vice President and policy committee chair Kathy Helewa said," The Board recognized that this would be a hot-button issue for many families, so we took the step of allowing for a "buffer" meeting in between the first reading of the amendments in public and the first opportunity for passage, specifically so that community members could voice their opinions before any changes would be enacted."
"We need to spend a few weeks talking about it, hearing from the town, set it up for discussion at the next meeting,” said Board President James Sena. “We will hold off on this policy until after the next meeting.”
At issue is food treats for student's birthdays. Other schools in the area have already gone "food treat free" - Bernards Township, Berkeley Heights, and Chatham among them, and have shown there is a great way to have a fun birthday at school without the food. Long Beach Island schools banned birthday celebrations with cupcakes inside classrooms back in 2009 and some of the Bernards Township schools as early as 2003.
Some school board members believe the policy change is needed to reduce risk due to food allergies. Food allergies among children have increased almost 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
About 20 members of the public attended the meeting and a few spoke during the opportunity for public commentary. Some parents voiced their support for a change to the policy, and some against.
Helewa said," The proposed changes to the policy would mitigate risk to our district. At the same time, the Board hears the concern of parents that birthdays in school should be a joyful experience for the children, and we appreciate that. We want our students to like being in school."
Board Member Tia Allocco said, "Celebrations of birthdays with cupcakes is generational; we grew up with it, it strikes a cord with us. I think it’s important to come up with specific parameters and options for the replacement celebration so people know we aren’t getting rid of it but we’re amending the celebration.”
In a letter to parents, Dr. Nastus states," Safeguarding a student with allergies is a continuous challenge to both parents and the schools entrusted with their well being."
Over 30 allergens affect one or more students and also problematic is the fact that ingredient/processing labels can change without warning.
"Because allergic reactions can be serious enough to threaten the loss of life, constant vigilance must be maintained. As an example, during the 2014-15 school year, mindful of the risks of allergic reactions, the nursing staff reviewed and examined more than 2,234 donations of foods to ensure student safety," Nastus said in her letter.
Parent Heather Silver spoke against a change and referenced a petition with about 250 signatures. The petition however, was not presented to the board.