Governor, DPH scraps school bake sale ban

It is now legal to hold bake sales at your local schools, as the Department of Public Health reversed course on its proposed ban. — Photo by Susan Safford

School bake sales are back. Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday he would support a legislative effort to keep the cupcakes frosted, and the Department of Public Health reversed course on its proposed ban.

“Nobody’s interested in banning bake sales. We are interested in student nutrition and good choices,” Governor Patrick told reporters, shortly before DPH, an agency under his control, announced it would amend its regulations banning the tasty fundraisers.

The House on Wednesday approved an amendment to a spending bill that takes the authority to ban bake sales during school hours out of the hands of the Department of Public Health and gives it to local school officials. The Senate agreed to that language on Thursday. Simultaneously, the Department of Public Health announced that it would present emergency amendments to its regulations at the June meeting of the Public Health Council, to reverse the bake-sale decision. The ban was a part of regulations authorized by a school nutrition law approved by the legislature that will remove candy and other unhealthy foods from school cafeterias and vending machines. The regulations are to go into effect on August 1.

The governor said he thought the DPH was simply trying to implement what it understood to be the intent of the school nutrition bill, passed by the legislature in July 2010. He said now that the legislature had taken actions to “clarify that intent” the issue could be resolved.

“The school nutrition standards have always been about reducing childhood obesity in Massachusetts and protecting our kids from the serious longterm health impacts that obesity can cause,” DPH commissioner John Auerbach said in a statement. “At the direction of Governor Patrick, the department will seek to remove these provisions. We hope to return the focus to how we can work together to make our schools healthy environments in which our children can thrive.”

Though the actions by the governor and the DPH appeared to eliminate the need for the legislature to act, the issue still carried over to the floor of the Senate, where Sen. Michael Knapik, a Westfield Republican, called the idea of banning bake sales “downright un-American.”

“We have more important things to debate in state government, but sometimes the elected representatives have to step in and make things right,” Senator Knapik said.

Other senators argued that bake sales were important fundraising tools for cash strapped public schools, to support additional programming for students.

During debate, Sen. Susan Fargo, a former teacher, also said she “can’t stand MCAS” and ripped the decline in time spent by students in recess, engaged in physical activity.

Sen. John Keenan (D-Quincy) said it was interesting that the Department of Public Health saw fit to regulate bake sales while doing nothing about the designer drug known as bath salts, imploring public health officials to focus on the drugs that are “wreaking havoc in our neighborhoods.”