Cupcakes, heart-shaped candy and cards with fun sayings are staples of the Valentine’s Day holiday. Some Rock Hill parents, however, thought they were limited by what they could give children this year.
The Rock Hill school district sent elementary schools a letter on Jan. 26 detailing food guidelines for celebrations, said Mychal Frost, director of communications for Rock Hill schools.
The letter included a 12-item list of approved foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and dip, chips, mini cupcakes and cheese sticks. The list said all items were required to be store-bought with a nutritional label and that students may not bring anything beyond what’s on the list, according to the letter.
The list said the amount of each item was limited to one per student, the letter states. Rock Hill schools are members of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, an initiative aimed at making schools healthier, the letter states.
Rock Hill school board member Helena Miller, a parent herself, said she got calls from parents angry about the restrictions. She also said the letter was sent too close to Tuesday, causing some parents who had planned early to have to adjust what they were going to send.
“We’re putting parents in a bind because of the short time frame,” Miller said.
Board member Windy Cole said some parents may not be able to afford to buy items rather than make them at home.
“The list that went out was very restrictive,” Cole said.
However, the letter and food list were never meant as mandates, but as guidelines that were requested by the principals, Frost said.
“It created quite the firestorm at several elementary schools,” Frost said. “The list was never intended to be a menu. It was intended to be suggested items that we knew to be allergen-free.”
Frost said the principals were asked on Jan. 27 to not send the letters out if they had not already done so. He said the intention was never to send the list home to parents, but to give school principals a guideline for celebrations.
“District administration was merely responding to the request of principals by providing a guideline of suggested items,” he said.
At least one school, however, did send the letter and list out after that date.
Miller addressed the issue during Monday’s school board work session. She asked the board to consider adding a line to the existing school wellness policy giving principals the ability to establish a sign-up process for what treats can be provided for parties such as Valentine’s Day, which is the only district-sanctioned school party.
Miller said the food list was too restrictive from a school district.
“As a board, we need to be careful of what we dictate as a district on an individual school level,” she said. “I think we can make special considerations and let the principals make their own decisions on that specific day. It’s one day.”
However, the suggested items did not take that decision from principals, Frost said.
“A principal can do what he or she feels is appropriate for his or her school,” he said.
The guidelines did not stop schools from having a party, but were meant to limit how much food is brought into the school that day, said Sadie Kirell, clinical lead nurse for the Rock Hill school district.
“We have schools where kids were getting four and five cupcakes because that was how much food was brought in,” she said. “We’re not getting rid of cupcakes and candy,” but are attempting to rein it in “so we are not giving our kids 1,500 to 1,700 calories in a party.”
However, Miller said a better sign-up process at the schools could solve the overabundance issue.
“I think we need to focus on healthier eating for kids, but there is a fine line between every day and special occasions,” she said. “For some of our students, it’s the only Valentine’s Day party they will ever attend.”
Brand name suggestions ensure children with allergies are kept safe, Kirell said. She said it often takes hours for school nurses to go through food to try to limit exposure to allergens.
“We don’t claim to be a peanut-free or allergen-free facility, and we never will be,” she said. “What happens on days with parties like this is mass amounts of food come in and the likelihood of exposure goes up tremendously. We want to decrease the chance that someone in our schools is going to make a mistake and a child is going to lose their life.”
The board is not yet taking any action regarding the wellness policy as updated federal guidelines may be coming later this year, Frost said.