Birthday Treats in the Classroom

The thought of birthday treats and unsafe snacks in my son’s classroom gives me a case of the hives. Ok, not literally but I do worry about the chance of something inadvertently getting onto his skin or in his mouth that would trigger a life threatening reaction. Thankfully, most of John’s teachers have been more than accomadating to his needs by enforcing a “peanut free room” policy, and providing parents a list of approved snacks in the classroom. John is in first grade now and we’ve had no issues to date. I credit his teachers enormously for this by taking John’s food allergies seriously and following a treat free policy. However, not everyone believes in this policy and some parents and administrators have gone through great pains to make sure our classes have the freedom of choice in terms of whether or not to allow birthday treats.

The notion of allowing birthday treats in the classroom is outdated and it opens the door of liability for the school. Most importantly, it puts our food allergic children at greater risk of a reaction unneccessarily. It also reinforces the idea that a food allergic child is and should be excluded from traditional birthday or holiday celebrations. At my children’s school I am asked to sign a document that addresses the policies and procedures, and the policies specifically say “no child shall be excluded…”. Um, guess they weren’t thinking about excluding food allergic children from sharing cupcakes, cakes, brownies, candies, etc. during birthday or Halloween celebrations.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for a food ban here. We live in a world that John and many of his food allergic friends have to adapt to and live freely in. I would never ask for a food ban as that is unreasonable; you can’t shield your children forever (although it would be kind of nice). I would prefer that my school adopt a policy that allows birthdays to be celebrated with non food items such as pencils, stickers, or even a book. Aren’t those healthier choices anyway? I have informally surveyed many moms around the school if they would be opposed to a non food policy to be enforced (not just “suggested” as it is at John’s school). Overwhelmingly they all said they would actually prefer a non food celebration at the school. Our kids are more than taken care of at home during their own family and friend parties. Who needs the extra sugar at 2 pm anyway?

I told our superintendent the other day that what I am asking for is a school wide policy that sets the boundaries so there are no gray areas of interpretation. Kids, you can celebrate your birthday at school. Mom and Dad can come in to read a book and pass out fun trinkets if desired. But keep your cupcakes at home to celebrate with your family and friends during your birthday party. Is this unreasonable? I don’t think so. Let me know what you think.

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