ANKENY, Iowa – Ankeny elementary students can forget about getting a kiss at school today during Valentine’s Day celebrations.
The Hershey’s chocolate treats are banned, as are candy hearts and other store-bought sweets students have shared with their classmates for decades, The Des Moines Register reports.
Instead, district officials suggest students give each other pencils and stickers and bookmarks.
“They weren’t interested in it, because they don’t want to give trinkets or pencils,” East Elementary School parent Christi Rohlfing told the news site. “It seems like the school has taken the fun out of celebrating birthdays and classroom parties.”
Similar complaints are now common from parents as schools attempt to comply with federal restrictions on school food championed by first lady Michelle Obama, and imposed on schools through the National School Lunch Program.
Numerous school districts have banned students from sharing birthday cupcakes or other celebratory treats since the federal restrictions on calories, fat, sugar, sodium and other elements went into effect in 2012, EAGnews reports.
“This is a rite of passage in childhood,” Rohlfing told the Register. “The kids are excited to share valentines with friends and the treats they give each other are a part of that.”
District officials cited concerns about student allergies, the financial restrictions of some parents, and a need to provide healthier foods as reasons to prohibit students from brining in foods to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
The irony, however, is “healthier” food options sold through the district’s food service department are still allowed for classroom parties.
“For the fall party, the class selected Rice Krispies treats and for the winter party, cinnamon rolls,” parent Melanie Wallace said. “Those aren’t what I would consider healthier for students.”
The Register reports other school districts in the area – Des Moines, Urbandale and Wes Des Moines – restrict homemade foods but not store-bought foods.
Wallace said Ankeny’s policy is driving up the cost of classroom parties by forcing parents to purchase overpriced treats through a district-created monopoly.
“I’ve probably spent $75 out of my pocket for three parties this school year where before, parents could send in food donations that they could afford,” she said. “But two dozen cookies bought from the school costs $24, and that’s not a healthier option.”
Other parents are also objecting to the Valentine’s Day candy ban, pointing out that the district last fall restricted Halloween celebrations.
“I feel like we’re taking away part of these kids’ school day fun and memories,” Kali Morrison, Alkeny grad and mother of an elementary student, told the Register.
Theresa Ware, mother of two Westwood Elementary students, certainly agrees.
“It’s fun, it’s a tradition and you’d think the schools would have more important things to worry about,” she said.
Ankeny schools’ chief operations officer Matt Adams, meanwhile, insists the district’s food rules are designed to promote equality.
“It is important to us that students with dietary and/or financial restrictions not be excluded from school parties, and have an equitable experience to that of their peers,” he said.