School officials trying to keep students safe; Fort Mill should be inspired by Knowledge Park plan

June 2, 2014 

A recent policy change by the Fort Mill School District regulating food students bring to school to share with other students was met with mixed reactions.

The rule bans students from bringing homemade food – excluding a student’s lunch or other personal meal – into any of the district’s classrooms. It targets the baked goods such as cupcakes, brownies and cookies students share during classroom celebrations, but encompasses everything. No homemade salsa or mini-quiches. The ban does not apply to school festivals, bake sales or other special events.

And just to make sure everyone gets this – because thedebate on our website and Facebook page shows that not everyone does – this DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN NOT PACK YOUR CHILD A LUNCH TO BRING TO SCHOOL. Sending your child to school with a nutritious lunch is encouraged. It also DOES NOT mean the end of school parties that include snacks.

The district is trying to protect students who are allergic to certain foods or ingredients from accidental exposure. Peanut allergies, for example, seem common, but there are many other nuts and other food that can be toxic to some kids. Reactions can range from discomfort to death. Previously, the district allowed each school to decide its policy and this dates back to a few years ago when the mother of a student with a peanut allergy waged a campaign to have peanut butter and peanuts banned. Exposure to just a speck of peanut or peanut product could cause her child’s throat to swell and close, she said, and unfortunately that’s not hyperbole.

To minimize the risk, starting with the 2014-’15 school year, if parents want to send treats to school with their students for his or her classmates to enjoy, they must be store-bought and include a label listing ingredients. That will allow teachers to screen the packages for anything that could be harmful to any of the students.

“These new food allergy guidelines are designed to provide consistency in all our classrooms,” district spokeswoman Kelly McKinney said, emphasizing that “It is the district’s goal to minimize allergy risks while maintaining a safe and positive learning environment for all our students.”

Makes sense to us.

Traditionalists can wax nostalgic about the “good old days” when a box of chewy, homemade peanut butter or oatmeal cookies or frosting-covered cupcakes would be passed around for a special occasion, but that’s taking a narrow view. Store-bought goodies might not be made with love like they are at home, but careful shopping can uncover some satisfying brands. If parents buy the healthiest treats they can find, then kids who are not allergic to any of the ingredients can have their cake and eat it, too.

Is it a little bit of an inconvenience? Sure. But weigh that against a child gasping for breath because of accidental exposure to an allergen. Doesn’t seem like such a bother now, does it?

Commercial development is a sign of progress

For years, the empty former Food Lion at the corner of Doby’s Bridge Road and Tom Hall Street seemed like a monument to contradiction. While the Doby’s Bridge Road corridor continued to grow and prosper, including a neat little strip mall across from the old Food Lion, 100 Fort Mill Square remained the lone eyesore.

Not for long.

First, the Family Dollar that came to anchor the strip mall started building a new store on the corner. Then, it was announced that a Walmart Neighborhood Market will be built on 42,000 square feet of the retail space at the Square. With a bright, new design and other improvements, it shouldn’t be difficult to attract new businesses for the remaining space. The communities at the top of Tom Hall Street and dotting Doby’s Bridge Road have long been in need of a grocery store nearby and this one will be within walking distance for a few of them.

Across the parking lot, a new owner is getting ready to re-open a long-closed gas station and convenience store. Things are looking up for that area and it’s a win for Fort Mill officials who preach the importance of development other than single-family homes. Now we’d like to see the town up its game.

In Rock Hill last week, recommendations were discussed for that city’s Knowledge Park project to breathe new life into a derelict downtown manufacturing site by creating a business park oriented to technology. The report cited a lack of high-tech workers and the need to recruit some from Charlotte. Such workers, the report laments, will cross the border to work in Fort Mill’s Baxter Village, but won’t cross the Catawba River to work in Rock Hill.

Well that seems to give Fort Mill a distinct advantage in attracting the best and brightest. All we need now is a plan. There’s certainly enough prime locations to design a cluster of tech offices and while we don’t have Rock Hill’s Winthrop University, which is a major component of the Knowledge Park idea, we do have some of the brightest and most innovative high school students in the state. For good measure though, many local residents do happen to attend Winthrop and York Tech.

A few years ago, Fort Mill toyed with the idea of creating a downtown hot spot – and that was before there was a smartphone in every pocket. It’s time to dust off that plan and take a big first step into making Fort Mill the tech magnet it could be.

With a little imagination and creativity and a lot of will, Fort Mill could be at the cutting edge of the type of low-impact, high-yield development the town needs.

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