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Parents and children defend homemade treats at City Hall rally

“Viva el cupcake!”

That was a battle cry of parents and children protesting outside City Hall today against new rules that restrict what foods can be sold at school bake sales. The regulation, passed last month by the Panel for Educational Policy, limits bake sales to packaged foods that are pre-approved by the Department of Education.

Parents and students who oppose the new regulation say that it won’t accomplish the city’s goal of reducing childhood obesity and will instead cost parent and student groups dearly needed funds. “It’s an ill-considered policy,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said today, over cries of “NYC DOE: Read our lips, no more chips” and “Hey hey, ho ho, junk food has got to go.”

At the center of the rally, which drew well over 100 parents and children, were two tables featuring homemade baked goods, including tofu empanadas and carrot muffins, and the packaged foods that the city requires.

Chloe Leon, a third-grader at the Earth School who was monitoring the “banned” sweets table, said she prefers baked goods made at home. “A lot of ingredients are more fresh and organic,” she said. “It just tastes better.”

Her mother, Leigh Anne O’Connor, said without the funds raised by bake sales, the Earth School is facing a future without important special activities, such as the overnight camping trip the third grade has scheduled.

Student groups can raise more than $500 in a single bake sale, according to Matthew Melone, a senior at Bronx Science High School, where Melone said sales could be found as often as three times a week before the city began restricting them.

Now, Bronx Science is totally devoid of sales and club coffers are suffering, Melone said. “It’s not easy to find those foods,” he said about the snacks on the city’s approved list. “They say we can buy in bulk at Costco or places like that, but students don’t have the funds to do that.” Bake sales where students each bring in homemade treats disperse the costs, he said.

Jean Grillo, a local activist who was the PTA president at PS 124 in Chinatown for seven years in the 1980s and 1990s, said bake sales are essential to building community. Especially at schools with many immigrant parents, Grillo said, bake sales offer an opportunity for parents to share in the universal language of food.

“If you’re just going to buy Doritos, you’ll never see a parent,” she said. “This removes parental involvement totally.”

The city has responded to complaints about the regulation by suggesting that parents abandon food sales altogether. One alternative the city has floated is for parents to pledge funds for students who complete physical activities, such as running laps.

But students today said that idea isn’t feasible, especially at the high school level.

“I would not run a mile for a dollar,” said Anya Lehr, a senior at LaGuardia High School. “I would rather be at home and making things with my friends. This is our way to make our own profits.”

And rather than preventing parents from supplying home-baked sweets, the city could combat obesity by removing vending machines from schools, installing more water fountains, and guaranteeing physical education classes, rally organizer Elizabeth Puccini proposed today. Puccini, whose child attends the Community Workshop School, also in the East Village, wrote about planning the rally in the GothamSchools community section.

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