VIEWPOINT: Let them eat cake! Well cupcakes anyway

At back-to-school night a couple weeks back I was confronted by a new rule at Condit Elementary School.

It goes something like this: Parents and caregivers are no longer allowed to bring in sweet treats to class for their kids’ birthday celebrations.

My initial thought was, this is silly. After doing some due diligence research and thinking on it for two weeks, I still think it’s silly.

I get it that not all kids want a cupcake. That’s fine. And I understand that some parents choose to restrict their kids’ sugar intake. Okay. And more and more kids have allergies to certain ingredients that may be present in a cupcake. We have to keep ‘em safe.

So can’t those kids just not eat the dang cupcake?

“In a dream world, yes [a child could opt out], but when you’re eight, and everybody around you is eating a cupcake, that is asking a lot for them to say, ‘I’m not going to have it,’” said Oakmont Elementary Principal Jennifer Adams.

Understood. But, do our kids really need protection from the stigma of being the one who doesn’t eat a cupcake? Peer pressure is a real thing, and kids do dumb stuff (I know, I have four of them). But would it really be too traumatic for a kid to Say No to Cupcakes?

“Apparently according to some parents it is, and they want to be inclusive,” said CUSD Assistant Superintendent Lisa Shoemaker. “I mean this gets down into the weeds about parenting policies and all kinds of things. That’s just way outside. If you knew what we had to deal with … you really start getting into the weeds.”

I’ve been a Condit dad for 12 years and an in-class volunteer for most of those. I have probably baked a half-dozen cakes and a few hundred cupcakes for various birthday celebrations over that time. Each in-class celebration went off without a hitch, with students and teachers happy.

At every party there has been a kid or two who didn’t want a treat. It was a simple transaction. Nobody cried, felt singled out or traumatized. We all survived.

Condit’s edict was actually a reaffirmation of its adherence to an existing Claremont Unified School District student wellness policy, which went into effect in the mid-2000s. The short explanation is the federal government says any school district accepting federal money for reimbursement of expenses related to the National School Lunch Program, which provides free and reduced rate breakfasts and lunches to school-age children, must adopt such a program. The feds only mandate that the program be created. It does not enforce the nutrition recommendations. 

Over the years some CUSD elementary schools have abided by the board policy to eliminate sweet treats, and others have chosen to allow them.

“The policy has been in our handbook for many years, however not enforced to the extent that if should have been,” said Condit Principal Christine Malally. “The other CUSD schools have been following the policy more closely than we have, so we are trying to get on track with them.”

Understood. But it’s still silly.

“There’s a lot of silly policies,” said Ms. Shoemaker. “Silly is a subjective term. I don’t want to get into debating whether it’s silly or not. As a mom—and I’m not speaking as a school district employee—my personal opinion is I wouldn’t bark one bit if my child had a piece of cake at school. It would not bother me one iota. I love cake. It wouldn’t bother me, but other people it would.”

I posit that those “other people” should perhaps look inward and ask why such a policy should exist; I suspect, if they were truly honest, the answer would be that it makes them feel better about themselves; It has nothing to do with kids.

“It’s not that we’re not doing anything frivolous, I mean we’ll take a minute and we’ll celebrate and read the book,” Ms. Adams said. “It’s not like I’m saying, ‘There is no fun in school.’ I just don’t think it has to be sugar-based.

Based on my 12 years of field research, about 96 percent of those kids want that cupcake. We’re bogging them down with homework four nights a week from kindergarten onward (don’t get me started); why not let them have a little treat on their birthday?

“We will get complaints about parents bringing sugary sweets to school in the same way that we would get complaints about not being allowed to bring sugary sweets to school,” Ms. Shoemaker said. “Some parents say, ‘I don’t feed my child sugar, and they don’t get to participate in the program because somebody’s bringing cupcakes to class, and my child knows that they can’t have a cupcake and then they’re left out.’ So, you can see how it goes both ways.”

The district is clearly in a tough spot. It is doing what it needs to do to follow the federal guidelines for National School Lunch participation/reimbursement. I know it must try to appease as many constituents as it can, not just one dad who thinks his kids should be allowed to have a cupcake at school.

But the schools that have allowed their kids to have sweets for their birthdays are still performing well, and the children who ate those cupcakes have survived, moved on and thrived, even after imbibing all that sugar.

We can and should protect our children from a lot of things that mean to do them harm. A birthday cupcake isn’t one of them.

I will of course abide by the rules. But, part of parenting is teaching kids when to speak up for what’s right. My hope is if they are one day confronted by the tyranny of the Sugar Police, they too will stand up and be counted on the right side of history. Cupcakes forever!

—Mick Rhodes



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