Students Say Bake Sale Ban Threatens Proms, School Clubs

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“Read our lips, no more chips!” nearly 200 parents and students chanted March 18 at City Hall, protesting a new regulation that limits the number and nature of bake sales in public schools.

The rules, which passed last June and were revised in February, are hurting programming at local schools, protesters said.

“My social action club is falling apart,” said Anya Lehr, a senior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, on West 65th Street, who helped organize the first citywide rally in November.

Model U.N.s and other clubs that rely on bake sales for support are also struggling, according to Lehr, and senior prom is being affected. Half of LaGuardia’s 600 seniors who would normally be subsidized by PTA funds might not be able to afford prom this year, she said.

Bijou Miller, co-president of District 3’s Presidents Council, said the PTA at the Delta Program at M.S. 54, on West 107th Street, makes an average of $500 from bake sales. That equals the amount needed to supplement this year’s 8th-grade dance. The school is now also falling short on resources for an upcoming field trip, she added.

Anya Lehr, a LaGuardia High School senior, said the Model U.N. and other clubs were struggling because of the bake sale ban. Photo by Aline Reynolds

“Teachers are complaining. They don’t know how to come up with that money,” Miller said.

According to the rules, student groups are only allowed to sell items from the new list of approved foods. PTAs, meanwhile, are entitled to one unrestricted bake sale per month during non-instructional time, and unrestricted bake sales after 6 p.m., on weekends and at extracurricular events, like games and plays. Approved foods, like baked cheddar potato chips, cool ranch Doritos and Linden’s chocolate chip cookies, meet Department of Education guidelines requiring that food sold at schools contain no more than 200 calories (less than 10 percent of them from saturated fat), low sodium and no artificial sweeteners.

“I think it’s an extremely misguided way of addressing childhood obesity. If kids develop these habits in school, they’ll reach for the bag of chips at home,” said rally organizer Elizabeth Puccini, mother of a 4-year-old who attends P.S. 361 Children’s Workshop School on the Lower East Side.

Puccini recently created nycgreenschools.org, a blog that addresses sustainable nutrition in schools.

“The approved snacks are still junk foods,” said Lilly Day, a sophomore at LaGuardia. “Instead of having healthful cereal, they’re suggesting that we eat bars made with oodles of corn syrup.”

Day prepared homemade zucchini muffins using natural ingredients for the first rally.

“Even something organic can be tasty,” she said.

For its part, the department says it is trying to fight obesity among students, and since home-baked food sold at fundraisers cannot be monitored for nutritional value, it is no longer permitted.

Department spokesperson David Cantor said in an emailed statement: “We will continue talking to parents, students and others in school communities to ensure that our policy is promoting students’ health while ensuring that school communities can raise money for school needs and extracurricular activities.”

Prohibiting specific foods can actually make them more desirable, points out psychotherapist Jane Hirschmann, author of Preventing Childhood Eating Problems. Hirschmann is also co-chair of the Parents’ Coalition to End High Stakes Testing, a New York City-based group that is a frequent critic of the Bloomberg administration.

“You’re making brownies very special,” she said. “When you make something forbidden, you create an exaggerated yearning for it, which results in overeating.”

Critics of the bake sale policy have also pointed out that the department might be profiting from contracts with companies that manufacture the approved foods. While the department confirmed that such contracts were in place, officials did not disclose the financial details of these arrangements.

Council Member Gale Brewer said she is planning to reintroduce a resolution to the City Council calling on the department to repeal its ban on the sale of baked goods and other non-approved foods.

“I think a once-a-month quota is an outrage,” she said. “How are they supposed to go to prom?”

She urged all stakeholders to collaborate with the department to determine a new set of rules.

The department is asking that suggestions for additions to the approved food list be directed to the SchoolFood office, at 718-707-4330. 

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