Monday, September 18, 2006

obesity, parental responsibility, and stupid state laws

I truly wish it was that easy.

Our 4 year old has been attending Pre-K at a private Catholic school for over a month now and likes school. She asks every day if she's going to preschool; she loves the school, her class, and her teachers.

I love her teachers too, especially the 50-something year old head teacher who has been teaching for forever. She is a lifer in the true sense of the word and has all the experience and patience in the world. She's seen a lot of changes in education in AZ, but even she wasn't truly prepared for this year's new state requirements. She is pissed, the other teachers are pissed, and all the parents are pissed; because this year the legislature defiled a sacred part of childhood: the birthday treat.

Private schools in AZ have generally been left alone by the state, excluding the general kind of licensing requirements that every state has. They even managed to escape AIMS testing, the misguided attempt by AZ to comply with NCLB.

This year though, the Arizona legislature abandoned the usual policy of non-interference, in favor of strict nutritional requirements, calling it the "childrens wellness program".

That's right. With a defunct public school district in Colorado City that was left alone forever (allowing a massive amount of funds to be funneled to the FLDS and Warren Jeffs), and seriously underperforming schools all over the state, the legislature decided to meddle with private schools' nutritional standards.

Granted, public schools are being held to the same standard. No more french fries and pizza served in the cafeteria or during school hours, no more soda in vending machines during school hours, no "fattening" foods served at all in the name of preventing obesity.

Now, I'm all for cafeteria choices being healthier, and more options being available. For too long public school cafeterias in this state haven't been healthy at all (we had an on-site Taco Bell at my high school) and public schools are under the jurisdiction of the state. Change is this area is definitely a good thing.

I do however bristle at the idea of the state legislature determining what can be served at a private school's cafeteria. A private school is the very model of capitalism driving a good education, and as such parents have more say in what is served. From what I have heard from other parents and the teachers, what is being served in the cafeteria at Rosie's school is no different from what was served last year, with the exception of pizza Fridays which are now gone. I hate the fact that the legislature interferred with the private schools in this way, since they were already doing a good job at offering healthy foods.

But this is not what is pissing me off the most. I can deal with public schools being held to nutritional standards, this is all well and good. Private schools being held to the same standards is annoying, but is not causing any substantial change.

Chris and I did however have a problem on parents night when were told we weren't allowed to pack juice in kids' lunches that wasn't 100% natural fruit juice. That is seriously interferring with parental responsibility, since what we pack in our kids' lunches (short of poison) is no one else's concerns. But that's still not the worst part.

The worst part is the banning of the "eeeeevil" cupcakes.

Yes, you read me right. When Rosie's birthday comes up in January and she gets to celebrate her birthday at school, I will not be able to bring in cupcakes. The AZ legislature has decreed that cupcakes do not meet their nutritional standards and from one year to the next, birthday cupcakes have been banned (and all other non-state-sanctioned foodstuffs for that matter).

I could understand when schools required birthday treats to be bought prepackaged from a grocery store instead of homemade. I understand other kids may have allergies and if I forget to mention peanuts in the long list of ingredients in birthday cookies, that could be a problem. I can handle having to buy the treats so the teachers can scan the ingredient list for possible allergies in the class. That doesn't bother me.

But to ban them outright? That's a little extreme. Let the kids have their special moment and their special treats. It's a whole 24 treats out of the year, that's not about to make the kids fat, especially since these kids spend a lot of time playing at the attached playground.

I know cupcakes are a pretty extreme example, as they are pretty well devoid of nutritional value. However, Rosie's class has already had one birthday treat sent home instead of consumed on campus, since a well-intentioned mother brought packaged rice krispie treats and juice boxes. They didn't meet the nutritional standards, and were sent home.

I understand more and more kids are becoming obese at earlier ages. I understand that some parents can't be trusted to make good choices for their kids. However those parents shouldn't keep the rest of us from giving our kids whatever juice box they like or from bringing in a birthday treat once a year for everyone to share. Rosie's teacher and I agree; have all the nutritional standards you want, but kids are entitled to being spoiled once a year on their birthday. Take that away and you take away some of the best memories of childhood. Bringing in yogurt for the class or a book to donate just isn't the same.

The bottom line is yes, kids are becoming fatter, but that's the PARENTS' fault, not the school's fault, and definitely not the fault of the other parents. The vast majority of us can be depended on to pack healthy lunches for our kids; that's our job and responsibility. For the legislature to assume this responsibility is not only abridging our rights as parents, it's downright offensive. Because of the 10% of parents who screw up their responsibility to keep their kids healthy, the rest of us have to forgo treating our kids and their classmates.

Quite simply; the state has no right to tell us what we can feed our own children.

All hope is not lost though. While birthday treats have been banned, Rosie's teachers have no intention of canceling Muffins with Moms and Donuts with Dads, two events whose centerpieces don't meet the state's standards. Of course these events occur outside of school hours, where state standards do not apply. And to the relief of the principal, bratwurst will still be served at the Fall Festival. The legislature may abridge the rights of parents to feed their kids, but take festival food from church folk, and be prepared for real fur to fly.


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.