When I saw the headline, I thought the story was about what parents pack in a kid’s lunch box. The headline, Should an Oreo require a permission slip?, was on the front page of last Saturday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. I grabbed the paper off the counter at the local café to read it, assuming a school was requiring a permission slip for kids to bring Oreos in their homemade lunches.

My assumption was incorrect. The story was about a sixth-grade science teacher who sent home a permission slip for her students to eat an Oreo. She was using the cookies in a lesson. She planned "to simulate the 3 types of plate boundaries and the geographical features that are created" with Double Stuf Oreos and let her students eat the cookies after the lesson.

food allergiesIn order for the students to eat an Oreo though, they had to have a signed permission slip. The slip “included a photo of an Oreo package, the cookie's ingredients, and a list of the nutrition facts.”

When a parent of one of the students tweeted her frustration over the slip, the tweet went viral and a front page story in a major city daily was born. This is what makes front page news these days, and it makes all sorts of thoughts and questions bounce around in my head. The first is, “Did the teacher go overboard? The kids are 12 not 5. Shouldn’t they know what they can and cannot eat?”

I took the question to my friends on Facebook. Almost all of my friends who responded are parents. Some of them have children with food allergies; some of them don’t. All of the parents of children with allergies were on the side of the teacher being cautious, although one said a notice instead of a permission slip would have sufficed.

Those without food allergy-prone kids were more likely to think it was ridiculous. There were comments about it defying common sense and how it’s silly. Parents don’t get notes about the foods sent in for school parties, so why get one over a single Oreo?

Yet, most of them understood why a teacher might feel the need to do this. It’s the “insane culture” we’ve created for teachers where they feel they need an “incredibly high level of cover-your-ass” because “in this litigious world you never know what you will be held liable for anymore.”

The teacher sending out the permission slip for an Oreo is not in a unique situation. This particular permission slip might have come to light because a tweet went viral, but it’s not the only one of its kind. I’ve signed two permission slips this year that seemed like a total waste of my time, the teacher’s time, and the paper they were printed on.

  • My seventh-grade son brought home a permission slip when his English class was studying the Harlem Renaissance because some of the imagery in a poem the class would be reading might be disturbing.
  • My 10th-grade son brought home a permission slip from history class to be able to watch “Amistad.” When he handed it to me and I mentioned the fact that he hadn't needed a permission slip to see "Saving Private Ryan," he had a very astute observation. "Graphic violence and cursing are no big deal, Mom," he said, "but a parent might get butt hurt if their kid saw slave boobies."
While these permission slips are ridiculous, I understand the caution the teachers took. I wasn’t upset with the teachers. The ridiculousness lies in position teachers have been put in that makes this is a smart move. They also been put in the impossible position to try to foresee what might get parents "butt hurt." If you're unfamiliar with this colloquial expression, it's used when someone overreacts and is offended at something that isn't a big deal. My son's choice of words might be a bit crude, but I think it sums up the dilemma well. 

I imagine that the teacher who sent out the Oreo permission slips had her students with allergies in mind, but I wonder if she also had the parents in mind who could possibly demand her job because she offered their organic-only child an Oreo. She didn't comment in the Inquirer article, so this is only speculation. I wonder if she feels like she's between a rock and hard place. If she doesn't get parents’ signatures, she leaves herself open to parental freak-outs or worse — possibly a lawsuit or even loss of her job. If she asks for signatures, she's criticized for going overboard. As one friend on Facebook noted, a notification should suffice, but it no longer seems to be adequate for a teacher to protect both students and herself. 

What do you think? Was the Oreo permission slip overly cautious? Or, do you think the teacher was being appropriately diligent? Take the poll or comment below.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.