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Manchester school board committee votes to limit school birthday parties to once a month

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 14. 2013 10:35PM

MANCHESTER — Cupcake-filled birthday parties could become a much rarer occurrence in city schools under a new nutrition policy given preliminary approval by school board members Tuesday.

Teachers would be encouraged to have only one group birthday party a month, rather than one for each student, under the revised policy, which was approved by the board’s Coordination Committee.

In addition, the policy would limit holiday parties to one per month, “unless nutrition standards for healthy snacks are followed.”

The committee also agreed to a rule limiting ice cream and popcorn sales to no more than twice a week.

The changes were proposed as an update to the district’s seven-page “wellness and nutrition policy.”

Many of the changes are minor modifications. For example, the serving size for juice, flavored milk and drinkable yogurt for elementary school students was lowered from 12 ounces to six to eight ounces.

The policy keeps in place nutritional guidelines that limit fat content and calories in school meals and mandate the use of whole wheat bread, for example.

Healthier menus have been pushed in recent years by the U.S.

Department of Agriculture, which reimburses Manchester and other districts for much of the cost of its meals, in order to address obesity and other problems linked to poor nutrition. State authorities have also mandated nutritional standards for schools.

In the changes it approved Tuesday, the Manchester school board took aim at the snacks and treats that students can get outside the cafeteria.

Sue Sheehy, the district’s consultant dietitian, said in a class with 30 students, birthday parties could be a regular occurrence.

“If there were three birthdays in a week, a student could have cupcakes three times,” she said. “That’s why we’re encouraging one birthday for kids in a month.”

Only school board member Debra Gagnon Langton opposed adopting a policy on birthday parties.

“I don’t think we should be the food police,” said Langton, a sixth-grade teacher. “I don’t want to hear that can’t happen. It’s a child’s special day.”

Langton noted that she can’t prevent a parent from sending treats to school with a student.

“Sometimes parents try to outdo each other,” she said.

Sheehy said that the policy would be adopted to help teachers know how to approach birthdays; she said she did not anticipate that teachers or students would be disciplined if the policy were violated.

City Food Services Director Jim Connors said he wasn’t aware of any other districts that have adopted the specific rules around birthday parties.

The policy of limiting ice cream or popcorn sales to twice a week was prompted by their more frequent occurrence at some schools.

Mayor Ted Gatsas backed the change, pointing to what he observed in schools when ice cream was going to be served. “Eighty percent of the kids would throw their food away untouched,” he said.

The policy also states that the sale of baked goods and other items cannot be held within 30 minutes of meal times.

To do so, Sheehy said, could violate U.S.D.A. regulations against serving “competitive foods,” which could affect school meal sales.

Sheehy was asked what would happen if “competitive foods” were served.

“They can withhold funding and reimbursement, if they found we were serving hot dogs,” she said, while adding that she was not aware of any district that has been penalized.

The policy must still go before the full school board for approval.

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