Skittlegate: Should Food Be In The Classroom Without Parents Knowing?

SkittlesinHand
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If you haven't heard of Skittlegate, you might still know Tiffany Glass Ferreira. She was our June 2012 Richmondmom Rock Star, an artist, mom and an advocate for her son and other children with severe food allergies.

I saw her multiple posts on Facebook about Skittlegate, and the name alone intrigued me since “that tastes like candy” is the highest compliment I can give a food. So, I read her blog www.skittlegate.blogspot.com (which I would recommend for a longer version of the events) and decided to interview her to learn more. And boy did I learn about what's been happening in regards to food in our Metro Richmond schools and classrooms, what it is like for parents and children with food allergies and our fellow Richmonder's terrible definitions of fun.

1. Tell me what started “Skittlegate”

A few weeks ago my son described a substitute teacher passing out Skittles to his kindergarten class for good behavior. “Mom, I was good, but I followed the rules. I didn't take the candy,” he said, remembering his food allergy plan. At first, three other food allergy students also refused the candy, but one student changed his mind and asked for the candy. And the teacher gave it to him because he said it was safe. He was five. It's candy. He ate it and thanks goodness he wasn't allergic to that particular food.

At first, I was confused by the substitute passing out candy, after carefully reading Chesterfield County’s current Food Allergy Policy
I realized that it states: “[Teachers will] Collaborate with other school staff members and volunteers to discourage using food or other potential allergens for rewards or teaching purposes in the Classroom.”

Does that mean nothing? Yes. I soon discovered “discouraged” means “logically recognized as a bad idea,” but it is still up to food parents (parents of children with food allergies) to debate each idea on a Skittle-by-Skittle basis. And if you have a substitute, a parent just has to hope she/he doesn’t bring in candy. Because a substitute can bring in candy without breaking policy.

What the policy really means is: Teachers use food, which are potential allergens, for rewards – and vocal protest is the only way to move a food from a “good idea” to a “bad idea.”

It would better serve food allergic children to say: “Teachers will notify parents if teachers and other staff members plan to distribute food or other potential allergens for rewards or teaching purposes in the classroom.”

But my experience in speaking up about the Skittles has made me feel like the policy should say:  “Teachers will insist on passing out candy, regardless of suggested policy. Get used to it or move elsewhere.”

2. I’ve seen your posts on Facebook about people’s responses and many seem to take your stance very personal. Have you been attacked as a person or have others kept it civil and to the issues at hand? What are the issues at hand? Is this bigger than candy in schools? Is this bigger than allergies? Obesity? Saving the schools and/or families money?

Parents, with and without allergies, support the suggestion that teachers use creative rewards for good behavior instead of candy. They could have concerns about childhood obesity, juvenile diabetes, allergies, better nutrition, sugar, food dyes or dietary preferences specific to their household. Many great teachers already use stickers, pencils, extra recess time, classroom privileges, kind notes sent home, special books, words of praise and many other options. I’m a former classroom teacher who did reward with candy ten years ago. Now, having seen firsthand the consequences of giving a child their allergen (my son ended up in the hospital before he was diagnosed), I wouldn’t hand candy out to a group of students anymore. 1 in 12 children have a food allergy now. Change is hard, but regret is harder.

3. Of course, this is personal for you because your son has severe allergies but are you surprised people are so personally attached to the idea of candy and food in the classroom?

Before I spoke publicly, I met with my child’s teacher, principal, school nurse and counselor to ask for their guidance. They encouraged me to share my story as an example of a growing point of view. Regardless of parent input, or strong discouragement, a handful of teachers will still claim candy is their best tool for classroom management.

If nothing changes with the policy, my goal to raise awareness is already accomplished, and my son is protected by a “504 Disability Plan” that further protects him.

4. People have accused you of taking the fun out of school. My personal response was: “People who think skittles are fun need to rethink their definition of 'fun.'”

There are two typical responses to eliminating candy rewards for good behavior:

Group One: Hmm, that makes sense based on food allergies, obesity, diabetes, expense, cavities, current research, health, wellness, sugar intake, nutrition, intrinsic motivation, my own personal experience with being trained like a seal to eat candy when I’m good.

Group Two: Ermahgerd you’re taking all the fun out of school!

The people in the first group will never be convinced to move into the second group. You can’t argue fun versus any of those other issues because fun is not enough. And if you come on over to group one, you’ll find out that we still have fun. {wink wink}

In case you need more convincing…

Things that are more fun than Skittles:

  • Jumping in puddles
  • Finding a bathroom before you or your toddler pees yourself
  • A poster organized by month of all the cool things your child did over the last your leading up to his birthday
  • Extra recess
  • Picking your nose
  • Angry Birds
  • Star Wars Angry Birds
  • A note or email from the teacher
  • Line leader or door helper or my favorite chalkboard eraser cleaner {BEST JOB EVER}
  • An autograph from a school celebrity
  • A stamp collection {bargain! $4.00 for 25,000 stamps}
  • Dancing to 90s pop songs {it's my favorite Pandora station DON'T JUDGE ME just keep judging Tiffany}

Well, thanks Tiffany for agreeing to this interview and for causing controversy in our otherwise boring community. When Skittle can make people accuse other people of destroying fun in schools, you know we’ve got it good. Plus, those people clearly forgot about pop quizes, trying to climb the giant rope in gym class, and pink eye.

For more information, check out anaphylaxis101.com and Tiffany's blog: skittlegate.blogpost.com.

Disclaimer: I am friends with Tiffany, but my opinion is my own and is fairly visible throughout this post. Consider it an opinion piece. You are welcome to your opinion as well, but if you are exceptionally rude, it is a reflection of the person that you are and I will be forced to feel sorry for you and I HATE feeling sorry for people because it gets in the way of feeling sorry for myself.

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