Nanny-stater of the Week: Who needs cupcakes and candy? Here, have a pencil

Part 11 of 11 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm |

A school district in Washington state is determined to make school more healthy and less fun.

Edmonds School District, in the suburbs south of Seattle, has approved a ban on cupcakes, candy and other sweet treats that children typically bring to school to celebrate their birthdays. Instead, district officials say kids should distribute pencils to their classmates on those special days – because pencils are every bit as much fun as cupcakes.

BLOWING OUT THE CANDLES: School officials in a Washington, state district say there will be no more sweet treats in the classroom.

The ban on food in classrooms — aside from “seasonal, cultural or curriculum-related celebrations” that are allowed to occur three times per year — is part of an overall effort to make the district’s schools healthier and to comply with new federal guidelines for school wellness.

That’s right kids: Michelle Obama ruined your birthday party.

But she had plenty of help from Edmonds school officials.

If every child in a classroom brings treats to birthday celebrations, “We’re not just talking about one cupcake a year, we’re talking about 25 cupcakes a year,” DJ Jakala, spokeswoman for the Edmonds School District, told the Everett Herald newspaper.

Jakala told the newspaper the change was part of a “philosophical shift” at the district and spoke about reports of students being more unruly during weeks when multiple birthday parties were held in the same classroom.

KIRO-TV reported that students will be able to get a new pencil or a handmade card from their fellow students, in place of fattening goodies.

But some parents say the school district is stepping on tradition — not to mention the fact the district is telling each child there is only one right way to celebrate his or her birthday.

“It’s not necessarily the district’s job to control that, to take away from everybody,” parent Marcus Shelton told local Fox affiliate KCPQ. “It’s overreaching.”

As of two weeks ago, the district had gotten just three written complaints, but officials failed to return calls from seeking updated numbers.

Edmonds School District isn’t alone when it comes to banning sweet treats for birthday parties and other occasions, but it’s certainly in the minority.

According to a report published in the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior last year, only 7.3 percent of schools prohibit sugary items during classroom birthday parties and 6.4 percent for classroom holiday parties. The study examined policies at more than 1,200 schools nationwide.

With the federal government pushing stronger nutritional guidelines for schools, surely the birthday tradition of cupcakes in the classroom is heading for the axe in more places.

But this week, for their efforts to limit childhood obesity by limiting childhood fun, the officials at Edmonds School District are Watchdog’s Nanny-staters of the Week. Their prize? A pencil and a handmade card.

Boehm can be reached at and follow @WatchdogOrg and @EricBoehm87 on Twitter for more.