Friday, February 22, 2008

Food Allergy Wars

So, the DH is an elementary school principal, and I'm a former elementary teacher, so you can imagine the general topic of our dinner conversation. Anyway, last night DH was telling me about a problem at his school; food allergies. Until now, the general practice (at his school and others in our area) has been to let each teacher handle things in her own room. When I was teaching, one year I had a child with a deadly dairy allergy in my class. Her mom and I talked with all the other parents and worked with the room mom to be sure all snacks and party food were safe for her. Her mom always was good about sending in special snacks, too. It worked great.
But, lately, this system isn't working as well. For one thing, the number of children with serious food allergies has increased rather dramatically (especially peanut allergies.) Why is this? I could go into a serious rant about the GOVERNMENT'S and BIG BUSINESS'S utter failure to protect pregnant mothers, babies, etc. (i.e. lead-laced toys, poisonous plastic baby bottles, trans-fats, etc.) but I won't. You know all that.
Anyway, the other reason that the system is failing is because some people are COMPLETE IDIOTS. Here's the case in point: a 2nd grade child at DH's school has a deadly peanut allergy. Yes, deadly. Just being near any peanut product can cause her throat to swell shut. She must have an Epi-pen on her person at all times. Her mother is very proactive and volunteered to be the room mom for the class in order to be sure that parties and special events were peanut-free. The mom even sent out packets to all of the parents at the beginning of the year with a letter explaining the situation, a photo of her daughter, etc.
Fast-forward to Valentine's Day. Another mom in the class showed up to the class party dressed as a peanut M&M. OK- no big deal, until M&M mom insists on passing out packets of peanut M&Ms to the kids in the class. Room mom politely asks her to stop, reminding M&M mom of her daughter's DEADLY peanut allergy. M&M mom says, "But I have to pass them out- I'm dressed as an M&M!" I have no words to express how I feel about M&M mom (no nice words, at least, so I'll move on.)
Fast forward to yesterday where Room mom meets with my DH and resigns as room mom, in tears of frustration, expressing fear for her daughter's health/safety.
DH doesn't know what to do. Here are his ideas, followed by my responses:
DH:Maybe we should just be a peanut-free school.
Me: You mean people couldn't pack their kid a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch?
DH: Yes.
Me: Horrors! What would Sister eat every day? She would starve!
DH: But what if her peanut butter sandwich could cause another child to become seriously ill or die?
Me: OK, good point. But what about parties?
DH: I'm thinking of having a fruit-only policy for parties.
Me: HORRORS!!! Fruit-only parties? At Christmas? At HALLOWEEN?
DH: It's not like the kids need the candy, you know.
Me: Of course they don't NEED candy, but sweets are what make life worth living when you're a kid. You can't forbid that- it's too cruel!
DH: (exasperated) Then what do you suggest?
Me: (after a few moments of thinking) What if you sent out a list of pre-approved treats people can buy at the store, like packaged Rice Krispy Treats and stuff like that. Then kids can still have some sweet stuff at parties, and you eliminate the risk of homemade goods, etc.
DH: Maybe. That's a thought. I'm going to ask the leadership teacher team and see what they think. It's a big problem.

So, I'm asking you, dear reader. What do you think is a fair solution? I'd appreciate your ideas.
Edited to add: If any of you have schools or school districts with good policies in place regarding food allergies, could you email me at I think our district is way behind the times (as usual.) Thanks!


Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

I'd think you might run into liability issues by approving certain foods. Fruit & veggies only might be the way to go. Just as long as no one brings in ants on a log!

Anonymous said...

I am a mom of a 2 year old with peanut, egg and fish allergies. Before we found out my son had allergies, his older brother ate peanut butter constantly and I didn't really understand the issues. Now I am glad that I live in an area (Ontario, Canada) where schools are peanut free and where there are laws (notably Sabrina's Law) in place to protect children with allergies at school. All schools have a similar policy in place and it isn't left up to individual parents and teachers. People get used to it and it becomes second nature. It's only now that I am directly affected do I really understand that children shouldn't have to put their lives at risk going to school, just because other children would like to eat candy at a party.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

The only fair solution is to have parents that aren't idiots. Baring that, the situation becomes much more thorny.

In many states, peanut-free schools are the rule these days. I can list several off the top of my head. Yes, it means no peanut-butter, which is VERY frustrating for many parents. But like your DH, the school officials felt like they had no choice due to the high idiot-factor.

And in our state, no homemade treats are allowed in any schools. You can only bring in wrapped, store-bought products for birthdays, holidays, treat day, etc. I'm sure that has to do with allergies too.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, we have to be responsible for our own kids. And we have to let others be responsible for their own kids, too, even when we don't trust them completely ourselves. I don't know how a big school, or a big government, can possibly do it all, or if it is their responsibility, anyway. It scares me to think of anyone else (particularly government institutions) trying to be my children's protectors... I have this fear that one day they will be trying to protect them from ME! And I will admit, I cling tightly to that description, myself.

I don't know if there IS a way that your husband can protect every child in his school, even though he would like to (because he takes his job seriously and HE isn't "an idiot.") :) Making a school peanut-free is an idea, but it seems to me it would just be something else soon enough... it's just all spiraling so fast these days, for whatever reason. (yes, maybe it is the mandatory processed food...) ;)

Sometimes parents have to make sacrifices for their kids' health and wellness, and that's just how it is. We just can't safely rely upon others to do it for us, even though that would be nice...

But, hey, obviously, I have "views" on big government that may be different from yours, and here I am, homeschooling, so take my words with that grain of proverbial salt! I certainly don't mind if you disagree with me, its what makes the world go 'round... Gracious disagreement never hurts - and sometimes it actually helps!

Ann Kroeker said...

I appreciated your encouragement over at my post today--thank you for taking the time to visit and comment.

When I popped over here to check out A Mama on a Mission, your post was so intriguing. I think your idea of an approved treat list would be a good solution if there were a lot of allergies in the classroom. It would actually be a relief to know that I wouldn't accidentally bring in something harmful.

I admit that it would be hard if my child's favorite sandwich were PB&J and I was told I couldn't pack it, but again, I think I would try to be understanding.

What a dilemma!

greenlady31 said...

Thank you very much for your post. I'm the mom of a boy with a severe peanut allergy, and your story of the peanut M&M mom made me wince. It reminded me of my son's kindergarten teacher (he's 3rd grade now) who insisted that the class make pb&j sandwiches in the classroom as part of a "lesson plan" - my offer to substitute soy butter fell on deaf ears. Now my son isn't contact or aerosole sensistive, but the image of 20 kindergartens making pb&j sandwiches...the whole classroom would have been a haz mat area! The chances of him touching something with pb and then rubbing his eyes or putting his hand in his mouth. .. luckily, the principal stepped in.

Since then, our food allergy plan has evolve. Here's what has worked for us:

- Food-free classroom. It is easy to implement and you don't have to worry about checking labels every day. Any treats parents want to send in for birthday's, etc. are served in the cafeteria. This keeps the room clean and has the added benefit of not using up classroom time for weekly b-day celebrations. (Personally, when I was a kid, I don't remember every birthday being celebrated by cupcakes for everyone). The teacher lets me know when b-day's are coming up so that my son has his own safe treat.

- Special celebrations that are sponsored by the school are planned in advance to be safe for allergic kids. Emphasis is on arts and crafts with limited food. Guess what - kids can have a great time without a lot of junk.

Does this guarantee that my son will never have an allergic reaction? Of course not. But it reduces the risk while still letting the other kids have fun.

BTW - for your kids that love pb - you could try soy butter or sun butter (made from sunflower seeds). They taste a lot like pb and are more healthy too. :-)

Jessica B. said...

I worked at a private girl's school that was peanut free. They took it VERY seriously- you couldn't even bring things like a Chick Fill A cup on campus because they use peanut oil. In a smaller school it is much easier to enforce.

Until there is a good policy in place, I would suggest to any parent that has a child with these severe (esp. airborne) allergies to talk to the private school in the area. A lot of them offer significant tuition help to people in these situations (when they have no other alternative).

As for school policy, I actually don't think most public schools will be able to fully enforce a peanut ban. There will always be some ding dong who sends peanut products.

Cafeteria-only policies seem to work well ( I know of another school that does that).

The other thing I have seen is that kids seem to respond much better to this that parents- teach the kids about peanut and allergy safety. Teach them to read labels and get them involved!

Shannon @ Some Fine Taters said...

I just ran across this: today and remembered your post. The site says they provide inservice food allergy safety training to schools. Maybe your husband will find it useful.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm way late on commenting here, but I've only just stumbled on your post. The M&M mama raises my ire, as a parent with a peanut allergic child.

Regarding your request for a solution, now is probably a good time to implement changes at the school. The faculty can conference the topic during summer PDs and come back with a new solution at the start of the school year. Of course I'm an advocate for a peanut free school, though prepackaged foods present an ongoing problem. For example, even plain M&Ms have peanuts in the candy shell. I think a food-free classroom is a great idea, too.

May I suggest that, as a strict vegetarian, it will be well nigh impossible to have a list of foods that meets everyone's diet issues. For example, the marshmallow in Rice Krispy Treats contains gelatin, which is not vegetarian, not to mention it's also not Kosher.

Many schools and programs are going with a healthy snack only regimen. It requires that we think beyond packaged foods, often, but that is not altogether a bad thing.