Sweet treats to celebrate a student’s birthday and candy-filled parties are a thing of the past in ’s schools.
According to a change in the district’s wellness policy this school year, food will no longer be allowed in the classroom except when it is a necessary part of the curriculum. Parents were informed of the change via a phone message and e-mail from Superintendent Michael Byrne. The wellness policy is also posted on the Kirby District 140 website.
At a time when many children have severe, sometimes life threatening, food allergies, the district feels it needs to make a stand to keep students safe, officials said.
“Our new wellness policy came about through the joint guidelines set by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health,” said Jill Wojack, assistant superintendent of special services for the district.
Before the policy change, information on students and their particular allergies were kept on file for reference. Teachers and room volunteers would use the information as needed, specifically when classroom lessons dictated the use of food items or during room parties and celebrations, they said.
But lunches are another matter.
“We still believe the parent has control over what they send for their child to eat," Wojack said. "If (he or she) wants to send a sweet treat with lunch, then that’s fine. We are just limiting what comes into the classroom setting, specifically at parties and celebrations, because quite honestly, there are massive amounts of food being sent to the schools for different reasons.”
It’s a hot topic among District 140 families, with parents expressing opinions on both sides of the fence.
“The new policy is an extreme way to take precautions,” said Stephanie Farrow, a parent of and students, each of whom have food allergies. “It’s not just about peanuts and tree nuts; so many children today have allergies to dairy and gluten. I’m glad the teachers no longer have the burden of keeping track of which students have specific allergies—at least when it comes to special treats.”
But mother Heather Barrett said her two kids at Millennium do not have food allergies
“I worry that the parties won’t be as fun for the children," she said. "At my child’s Valentine’s Day party last year, we served cookies and cupcakes—all peanut free. I guess this year we’ll have to do arts and crafts the whole time.”
Wojack stressed that the district's not trying to eliminate special classroom parties or birthday celebrations.
"We are still allowing that, but it has to be done in creative ways," she said. "It doesn’t need to revolve around a cupcake.”
Families are encouraged instead to bring in non-edible items for such parties, or plan holiday festivities around a specific theme or activity, she said.
With one out of 12 kids in the United States affected by various food allergies, it’s a safe bet the new wellness policy for Kirby District 140 is here to stay, officials said.
“I guess the kids will just have to get used to it,” Barrett said.