More than 30 parents in Durham, Ontario, shared stories about teachers telling their kids what items they could and could not eat, and even confiscating food, the Toronto Star reported last Thursday. Teachers reportedly told children their parent-given foods were “too unhealthy” to eat.
Tami DeVries said that when her son took his lunch to kindergarten, it was confiscated. A teacher took away his kielbasa, cheese, and Wheat Thins crackers, replacing them with Cheerios. Alicia Nesbitt reported that her stepdaughter, in first grade, had chips removed from her lunch during the first week of school.
“She came home and told me they weren’t a ‘healthy choice,’” Nesbitt said. “That may be true, but the rest of her lunch and snacks were very healthy and it’s up to parents if they want to put a little treat in for their kids. Unless the school wants to provide lunches, I don’t really think it’s their business.”
Janae Brangman recalled several times when her daughter, then in first grade, had her entire lunch sent home because it contained pizza. The school didn’t have a problem with pizza per se — after all it has designated pizza days. Her daughter just needed to eat her pizza on the right day.
“It’s not like he had chips or a chocolate bar,” explained Elaina Daoust, a mother of two. The offending piece of food? A snack-size banana bread. Her son was told not to eat a small piece of banana bread for his morning snack because it contained chocolate chips.
“He came home with a chart (listing healthy snack ideas) and told me he and the teacher talked about it and healthy choices,” Daoust said. “She also sent a note to me. I was really, really, really mad for several reasons.”
This mother had hand-picked those banana bread pieces for good reasons, and the teacher was effectively telling her how to feed her child. Daoust explained that her son is a picky eater, and she bought the snack-size banana bread because teachers discourage home-baked treats. Furthermore, this particular snack was labeled as being nut-free and safe for school.
Next Page: The Canadian school district’s unsatisfying response.
The Durham District School Board seemed to reject the parents’ concerns. In her statement, Superintendent Luigia Ayotte admitted “there may have been some issues with regard to certain foods students bring for snacks and lunches.” She did not acknowledge any problem with teachers overstepping their bounds by telling children what they can and cannot eat. “Food preferences and choice remain with students and parents unless they pose an adverse allergic danger to other students,” the superintendent added.
Ontario schools focus on healthy eating, including it in the health and physical education curriculum. Students in first grade are taught “how the food groups in Canada’s Food Guide can be used to make healthy food choices.” The third grade component encourages students to eat “local, fresh foods.”
Officials with the Durham Catholic District School Board admitted that teachers are not allowed to confiscate food. “There is nowhere in our policy or procedures that says our staff is allowed to take food away from a student,” James MacKinnon, a teaching and learning consultant with the school board, told the Star.
Nevertheless, many parents told stories like Elaina Daoust’s, and in some cases the teacher recommendations vary from classroom to classroom. Avani Chaudhary said her daughter, who is in second grade, was told that Goldfish crackers and chocolate chip granola bars are not acceptable snacks, but her son, who just started junior kindergarten, has heard no complaints about the same food items.
“It’s basically the teacher’s opinion,” Chaudhary said. “Is a muffin more healthy than a granola bar? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what is in them. Is the teacher qualified to make these decisions? It should be up to the parents.”