After more than two years of review, Orange schools has a new policy regarding food that can be brought into classrooms. Starting with the 2018-2019 school year, the only food that will be allowed as part of classroom and school celebrations will be provided by the cafeterias at each school. Student birthday celebrations will be food-free.
At its October monthly meeting, the Board of Education was initially faced with a proposed policy that allowed food from home or other outside sources for one curricular experience per grade level at each school and at one school-wide celebration at each school each year such as field day.
During discussion, board member Ken Ziman made a motion to revise the wording of the proposed policy to allowing no food at all. “The district believes in celebrating birthays and holidays. This no food policy will be extended to include all curricular events and school celebrations,” said Ziman.
“The impetus for me was the children with allergies,” said Ziman. “Then I looked at it as an educator. This is much harder on us as parents than it is on the children. Birthday parties for me is easy to get rid of. They can easily be replaced in schools by things that will make the child thrilled. I don’t think there’s any activity or lesson at school that needs food.”
Board Member Chantelle Bunnell presented a third option, which read, “Food is permitted for holiday and other events. Food served at these events must meet the Connecticut nutritional standards and must include safety and inclusion for all children. The personnel policy and transportation committee, in cooperation with the superintendent, principal and school nurse will publish an approved list prior to the start of each school year. The foods on this list will be provided by the cafeteria only.”
The ammendment passed with a 5-4 vote and nearly three-hours of discussion by the board that centered around allergies, safety and security of students.
“We all want to keep all of our kids safe in Orange. What we’re talking about is some of the most weak and vulnerable. What we’re essentially talking about is creating a new norm,” said Christian Young. “When we started to have these policy discussions two or more years ago, we decided that food is a part of our culture and our society and what we’re asked to do now is abandon that. What we started talking about is where food is coming from. Problems can happen. We were concerned about the sourcing of food, not the content. We are asking our community members to give up something that we all recognize had some value.”
“With a polarizing topic like this, I think it’s really easy for us to get locked into a position and to think that the only way to achieve our interests is the position that we believe will do it,” said Kim Browe. “Every one of us in this room have the same interest, that is the physical and emotional safety of our children. Some people have the position that the only way to ensure that is to ban food. I disagree. One of the strengths of this community is that we come together and we preserve traditions and celebrations.”
“My concern about food coming from home is more of a security concern,” said Cap. Susan Riccio agreed, “When I’m thinking about the food policy, I’m thinking not just about our children who are allergic or different. All of our children are different in one way, shape or form. I’m also concerned about what is going into foods, not only from an allergy perspective, but also cleanliness perspective. I want to know what my child is eating and when. I want to know how it was prepared. I stuggle with the giving food to other people piece.”
After the vote, the board further discussed the new policy. Young asked the board to defer the vote and not rush into a decision on Bunnell’s proposal. He said, “A lot of us here have decided that food is more trouble than it’s worth in the K-6 environment. I think there are a lot of members of our community who disagree and I am one of them. I don’t want my vote to be misinterpreted. Yes, I did just vote for a restriction because the alternative was a complete abstension of any foods whatsoever in our schools and I completely disagree with that. I’d rather salvage something than have nothing.” Young voted in favor of the amendment, but not in favor of the policy, which passed with an 8 to 1 vote.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent