"I had two cupcakes on my counter yesterday and three cookies."
It may sound like a lot, but receiving five sugary snacks in one day sets no records if you're an elementary school principal like Sally Soliday.
Soliday, who heads Echo Park Elementary in Burnsville, is in a position to know that the tradition of bringing birthday goodies to school is still going strong. But that's about to change in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district, where Soliday and the district's 17 other elementary principals recently adopted a policy that will go into effect this fall.
Call it the Birthday Treat Ban. Starting this fall, students will no longer be allowed to bring celebratory food or gifts to share with classmates, a move that principals say they're making out of concern about childhood obesity, allergies and the feelings of kids whose parents can't afford to buy treats for the whole class.
The rule is already in place at four district elementary schools -- Rosemount, Cedar Park, Red Pine, and Parkview -- though at least one of those has let students give tokens such as pencils or stickers instead of snacks, said Julie Olson, the district's director of elementary education. But the new district-wide policy will put the kibosh on inedible gifts, too, in an effort to be sensitive to families who struggle to make ends meet.
The change makes sense to some parents, including Laurie de Perez, who has a son in third grade at Echo Park. "It used to be that bringing a treat was bringing a sucker for everybody," she said. These days, though, families sometimes send in large cupcakes, gift bags or even pizza for the whole class on birthdays, several principals and parents said. "The treats are becoming bigger and more grandiose," De Perez said.
But some parents aren't thrilled about the new policy. "They're kids, and when you're a kid, your birthday is a big deal," said Angie Pavelka, whose fifth-grade son at Shannon Park Elementary in Rosemount brought cookies to share with his class on Monday. Pavelka said her family has always followed safety rules about sending in store-bought treats instead of home-baked goods, and she understands that schools want to watch out for the health of their students. Still, "as long as it's all appropriate, there can't be much harm in letting them have their birthday treat."
The principals, who meet twice a month, made the decision this spring after consulting with parent and teacher leadership groups at each of their schools, Olson said. They have drafted a letter outlining the new rule, though many have not yet sent it home to parents. The change is in line with a wellness policy that the district adopted in response to federal legislation passed in 2004.
And the district isn't alone: Edina and Minnetonka are among the metro-area districts that have either banned classroom birthday treats or urged elementary schools to move away from them in recent years.
Schools will still make students feel special on their birthdays in other ways, Olson said. Some principals mention birthdays during morning announcements, and many teachers let students wear a crown or lead class lines on their special day.
And some families are counting on the short memories of young children to get them through the transition. When De Perez' son overheard her talking about the new policy this week, "He went, 'What!'" she said. "But you know, they'll get over it. After the first initial shock, it's not going to be a big deal."
Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016