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School Rules Stir Sticky Trouble for 8th-Grade Chef

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The sweet success of free enterprise seems to have eluded Jill Benton, at least temporarily.

In January, soon after a friend taught her how to make lollipops, the Sagle, Idaho, 8th-grader began selling her homemade cherry hearts and cinnamon lips to fellow students at Sandpoint Junior High School.

Apparently striking a sweet tooth in the marketplace, she "banked $307" in the first three days of sales of her 25-cent product, according to her father, Larry Benton. She achieved her commercial success without the aid of lavish advertising campaigns or the expensive advice of marketing experts; a tasteful promotion was conducted strictly by word of mouth.

Then, perhaps inevitably, the bureaucracy caught up with the 14-year-old entrepreneur. Principal William Miller called Ms. Benton into his office and explained that her sales must stop because she was violating the education department's rule against the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value before the end of the last lunch period.

Undaunted, Ms. Benton offered to sell her sweets only after lunch. Not good enough, Mr. Miller later replied, because, alas, Ms. Benton was also in violation of a local health code which prohibits the preparation of commercial foodstuffs in a kitchen attached to a residence. She had been making her lollipops in the kitchen at home.

"She's a little confused," said her father, who was unwilling to separate the kitchen from his house but who has applied to the local health department for an exemption from the code.

"What about food made for school bake sales?" he asked. "Don't they violate the code too? She was getting a great lesson in free enterprise, in how this country works. Now her school is discouraging success instead of promoting it."

Although her sugary production line is temporarily shut down, Ms. Benton has had one consolation. Since the Associated Press sent her story out over the regional wires recently, she has been deluged with letters and phone calls from well-wishers from Northern California to Montana. One woman even offered her a horse, which Ms. Benton was planning to buy with her profits.

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