Parents can’t stomach ban on bake sales in the schools


By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

A bowl of homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies sat on a back table next to a draft of a resolution opposing the Department of Education’s bake sale ban at a meeting of Community Board 2’s Social Service Committee last Tuesday.

After much discussion and general agreement, the committee unanimously voted to issue a resolution opposing the ban on home-baked goods sold in city schools.

“Therefore Be It Resolved that Community Board 2 Manhattan urges the Department of Education to repeal its ban on selling Home Baked foods at Bake Sales, and calls upon our elected officials to review this nonsensical D.O.E. policy and seek its repeal,” stated the finalized resolution.

Late last June, D.O.E. passed a ban on all bake sales in public schools as part of a department “wellness initiative.” When school resumed in the fall, students and parents were upset to learn that they were no longer allowed to sell the baked goods they had relied upon to fund sports teams, activities and field trips. If a school does not adhere to the ban, it goes on the principal’s “noncompliance record.”

In February, Elizabeth Pucinni, a mother at Children’s Workshop School, on E. 12th St., waited until nearly midnight to speak at a monthly meeting of the Panel for Educational Policy. Puccini spoke against a proposed amendment to the bake sale regulation. The amendment, which was passed, allows students to sell prepackaged goods that are on an approved list and currently available in school vending machines. The prepackaged goods can be bought at Costco-type stores or through the D.O.E. vendor, which some questioned.

“The D.O.E. already has licenses with these vendors — I don’t know if it is too conspiratorial to wonder about that. I would like to know when the contracts expire,” said C.B. 2 member Tobi Bergman.

All in attendance at the Board 2 committee meeting expressed outrage that under the new regulations, Doritos and Pop-Tarts are acceptable while homemade zucchini bread and organic popcorn are not. It was also mentioned that home bakers don’t have access to the artificial ingredients used in mass-produced products.

D.O.E. claims that the approved products are portion-controlled, but as Puccini pointed out, there is nothing to stop students from buying more than one portion.

“It is so clear to me that 40 years ago, we didn’t have childhood obesity and we had lots of bake sales,” said committee chairperson Keen Burger. “It is not the bake sales.” Many cited the rise in products containing artificial ingredients and corn syrup, as well as the lack of physical education, as greater contributors to the rise in the obesity level.

“There is a social aspect to bringing something homemade,” said committee vice chairperson Steve Ashkinazy. “It sends a positive message to kids and they take pride in what they have produced.”

As noted in the resolution, the new regulations would harm fundraising efforts:

“Under these new rules, there is little or no incentive for customers to buy products that are readily available elsewhere in the school building, every day, and which have no unique, personal appeal,” said the resolution.

Many at the meeting voiced the complaint that this was an example of D.O.E.’s “top-down” policies, and were upset that parents and schools had not been consulted.

“There should be a line in the sand drawn that this is a local issue,” said board member Elaine Young. “The Department of Education can tell us about testing, but not about food.”

“There was no time to organize or talk,” added Puccini.

Helen Greenberg, a mother at East Village Community School, found out about the ban when she was told that she was no longer allowed to sell popcorn to raise money for biodegradable, sugar cane trays to replace the Styrofoam ones issued by the city in the school’s lunchroom.

Both Greenberg and Puccini have spent a lot of time organizing opposition to the ban.

“Our kids don’t know who we are anymore, our husbands might leave us,” joked Greenberg.

“This has become more than a full-time job,” said Puccini, a filmmaker. “Fortunately, I am between projects, or there is no way I could do all this.”

Since Puccini spoke at the PEP meeting in February, she has become the effort’s press contact, and together with a core group of mothers has attended meetings, written press releases and statements and organized events.

The mothers organized a rally in City Hall Park this past Thursday. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Gale Brewer spoke, as well as parents and community members.

“It was a very positive rally” Puccini said. She estimates that between 300 and 400 people attended.

“We had one table of baked goods, and one table of D.O.E.-approved foods,” Puccini said. “It was easy to see the difference between vegan chocolate cake and pumpkin bread and Doritos and Pop-Tarts.”