WARREN, NJ - The following was sent to parents in the Warren Township School District from Interim Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Nastus. Please note: The Board of Education will meet on Monday, December 7 at Warren Middle School. The public portion of the meeting will begin at approximately 7:10 p.m.
CELEBRATING BIRTHDAYS AT SCHOOL
During the past four months, 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, and reporting out regularly to the Board. The topic is not new and has been revisited several times by the Board over the past few years. However, the impetus behind addressing the issue--ensuring the efficiency of our daily operations while maintaining the health, welfare, and safety of all our students--has grown.
There was a time when students were identified with fewer allergies. The number and type of allergens were easier to manage. Now, as medical science advances, the number of identified allergens and their potential impact on a student exposed to a particular allergen have increased dramatically. Safeguarding a student with allergies is a continuous challenge to both parents and the schools entrusted with the student’s well-being.
Within our five schools, the list of allergens that affect one or more of our students includes over 30 allergens .These allergens include, but are not limited to, nuts of all varieties, dairy products, legumes, cooked and raw eggs, soy, cherries, red dye#40, gluten, pineapples, sesame seeds, meat products, fish, shellfish, watermelon, kiwis, peas, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, nectarines, mangos, and plums.
Coupled with these allergens is the fact that ingredient/processing labels can change without warning. For example, recently, the label of commonly approved white flour stated, “manufactured on equipment that also processes nuts.” Had the label not been examined anew, a student with a nut allergy could have been potentially exposed to a serious antigen.
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.
The Board has indicated that it does not want our schools to be food-free. The Board recognizes that food can enrich students’ learning experiences in a curriculum-based lesson or event. Such events also foster the sense of community and fun in the schools.
To balance all of the above, the Policy Committee, in efforts to provide a safe environment for all of our students, made the recommendation to the full Board to eliminate food when celebrating birthdays in school. The Board supported this recommendation with the understanding that celebrations would not be eliminated. Rather, alternative ways to recognize and celebrate a student’s special day are currently being reviewed. Accordingly, the full Board will continue its discussion as it works on amending the policy and regulation and welcomes community commentary.
As a district, we value our students and their well-being. We hope that you understand and support us in this mission.
Sincerely, Elizabeth Nastus