Governor Patrick orders ban on school bake sales to be overturned

Facing a rising clamor against the state’s controversial ban on bake sales in school, the Patrick administration Thursday directed public health officials to do an about-face and exclude classroom and fund-raising events from the new rules that were to take effect August 1.

The state Department of Public Health announced Thursday afternoon that it will pass emergency amendments to its regulations last year that curtailed the sale of sweets in school cafeterias and vending machines.

“The school nutrition standards have always been about reducing childhood obesity in Massachusetts and protecting our kids from the serious long-term health impacts that obesity can cause,” John Auerbach, state public health commissioner, said in a statement.

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“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.”

The statement said that the school nutrition standards will continue to apply to the primary sources of food and beverages in public schools, including all those offered as a la carte items in cafeterias and available in vending machines and snack shops—so-called competitive foods because they are alternatives to the standard school lunch. The time frame to which the standards will apply will continue to be the school day itself, and the 30-minute period directly prior to and following the school day.

The Patrick administration’s announcement came as the state Senate was poised to dismantle the ban on bake sales.

A few hours earlier, the governor, in response to questions from reporters, had indicated that he was ready to restore the right to hold bake sales.

“Nobody’s interested in banning bake sales. What we are interested in is student nutrition and delivering good choices,” Patrick said.

“I think the [Department of Public Health] was of the view, and of the perfectly reasonable view, that the regulations effected what they understood to be legislative intent,” Patrick said. “I think the legislature has clarified that intent, and we will move forward.”

The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a budget amendment Wednesday that would allow individual cities and towns to decide whether they wish to prevent the sale of sweets during the school day—a move that infuriated public health advocates.

The state Legislature required the Department of Public Health to establish standards for competitive foods and beverages sold or provided in public schools during the school day, as part of the “Act Relative to School Nutrition,” which was passed in July 2010.