Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wrestling with My Bias

At the beginning of the school year, a note came home with my daughters stating that an unnamed fellow schoolmate with a severe peanut allergy could not be in the same room with peanut products. Wow. That's a serious allergy. And my lunch preparations were seriously cramped.

I struggled at first with the fairness of administration banning every kid in the school from eating peanut butter. It's not like a prohibition on anchovies. Who snacks on anchovy and jelly sandwiches? Or celery sticks with anchovy paste slathered down the middle? A ban on anchovies I could handle. But peanuts? Peanut butter is a staple in our house, as I'm sure it is in many families' homes.

After a few weeks of complaining under my breath as I prepared tuna or egg salad or sliced turkey sandwiches, I started thinking about the issue from the perspective of the mother of the allergic child. She has just as much—if not more—trouble trying to come up with healthy, safe lunches for her allergic son or daughter. And is it really such an awful thing to ask that her baby be allowed to attend school without threat of anaphylactic shock? A child shouldn't have to face death just because another kid likes PB and J. The convenience of sending my girls to school with peanut butter sammies is not worth a stint in the slammer for involuntary manslaughter.

The other day, I read a news article about a parent revolt in Florida. They want the lone child with a severe peanut allergy who attends their kids' school to stay at home and let the rest of the students eat in peace. Now I'm all confused again. It does seem a little crazy to prevent everyone from eating peanut products and to make the teachers supervise an extra 10–20 minutes of hand-washing and mouth-rinsing for the sake of ONE child. On the other hand, it doesn't seem fair to banish a student just because s/he was born with an allergy. What do you think? And then tell me how I should think, 'cause I'm swinging back and forth here.

Dinner last night: spinach salad with steak and steamed potatoes


Liz Mays said...

I agree that it's a tough issue, but if a child's health or even life is at stake...well, there you have it.

Gaspegirl said...

This is also the case in our school... one child has an allergy and now the entire school is peanut free. I grumble and there are days that I would love to please my children and give them their PB&J BUT that is only for my convenience...

I think that it is the responsibility of the school to keep all children safe and if that means banning peanuts, dairy, chocolate or bearing arms then that is what they should do. The administration of the schools take daily abuse from parents who disagree and are arguing about one thing or another... on this subject I stay respectful and obey. :P

Just my opinion... make it a great day!

April said...

It is a tough and frustrating issue. However, food allergies can lead to death in some cases. So, I guess you have to take the risk very seriously, though it does cause an inconvenience to others who don't suffer from it.

Quadmama said...

As a parent of multiples, heck as a parent in general, I try to find the fastest, easiest things to make for my girls. But I know if one of my children had a severe food allergy I want the other parents to help me protect her. I know some schools do a "peanut free zone" in the cafeteria. If you sit at that table you can't have any peanut products. I wonder if that would be a solution for your daughter's school? Or is this child's allergy so severe that this wouldn't work?

Jessica said...

This is a very tough issue and I have no idea what side of the fence I would be on if it happened at my daughter's school. Thankfully though she doesn't like pb&j sandwiches.

Stephanie Faris said...

If it weren't life and death, I would probably be annoyed by it, but the school is caught between a rock and a hard place. It has to safeguard its liability in the matter...all the teacher and the school care about is having proof that all parents were notified of the case some parent slips some peanut butter into a lunch and the kid ends up being exposed to it. At that point, the parents would then sue the school... I can't imagine being mom to a child with such a severe allergy, but what could you do? It's not like there's a school for peanut allergic children somewhere.

Jayme said...

I totally swing back and forth on that one too.

But on a positive note, it gives you a reason to make PB&J for dinner LOL

Jamie said...

First, that child in Florida is protected by the ADA, so I'm thinking those parents are going to have to suck it up and have their kids, you know, practice good hygiene and wash their hands after they eat. The mouth rinsing is done with water and peanut products AREN'T banned. I don't know, that seems like a win/win to me (guess what, Florida parents. Your kids will get sick less often! Woot!)

Second, I have that child with a severe peanut allergy. It is a very difficult thing to have to ask other people for help in keeping your kiddo safe, beyond what most normal people do. Even though, during elementary school, parents were told that my peanut allergic daughter was in class with their child she got candy full of peanuts for each and every holiday. She never ate it and is very diligent, but it is hard.

I'm always very grateful for parents who do try so hard to help us out. I'm thankful for the kids who don't bring peanut butter so they can eat with my daughter at her peanut free table. I'm thankful for people packing cheese or bologna or something else to be helpful. It's a tough place to be in.

Karen M. Peterson said...

It really is a difficult situation and I am very glad I'm not the person that has to make the decision.

I really do see both sides of the issue and though I am going to weigh in, I in no way mean to say that I wholeheartedly or passionately believe in one side.

All that being said, I really do question what we are teaching children in general when we force the much larger majority to adapt to the needs of a very small minority. Yes, every person is important. And the issue is all the more complicated when the matter is life and death. But it seems to me that people need to adapt to their environments, rather than the environments adapting to them.

I get it. This sucks for this kid and his poor mother. But what happens when another child has a severe seafood allergy and can't be in the same room as tuna? (Yes, it happens.) Do you systematically ban ALL types of allergen foods to accommodate 2 or 3 kids?

LisaDay said...

I flip-flop on this issue, too. Most of our schools are peanut free but I often wonder how these children live in the real world where people can enjoy peanuts and other nuts every where?

Apparently they use a lot of wipes.

For children with severe allergies it's not just touching things, it can be the smell and the lingering oils (like on my son's jacket when I dropped my PB toast on it).

I read a story where parents with children with severe allergies didn't ask for bans but instead taught their children how to be careful and check everything.

Perhaps the younger grades, where children aren't thinking about others, a school-wide peanut ban is a good idea.


Kim said...

I tried to email back to everyone, but many of you show up as , so I'll just have to make a blanket statement here: Lots of interesting points, guys!

All I know is that life can be complicated, and raising children to be compassionate, responsible, independent people is a BIG JOB.

Quadmama: I love the idea of a peanut-free table, but maybe because my girls' school is small they just decided to ban peanuts altogether so they don't have to worry about it (?) I don't even know which child has the allergy—I'm assuming they want to protect him/her from feeling like an oddball (?)

Making It Work Mom said...

That is a hard one. I think if a child has a life or death allergy the other parents just need to suck it up. I would hate to see that poor child ostracized because other parents feel inconvenienced in their lunch choices.
I like Jayme's idea that now you can serve PB&J for dinner!

Stormy said...

I think that its just not worth the risk, and I guess I'd be willing to take extra steps to help that child be extra safe. But then again, for some reason I have had several friends in the last three years lose their precious children. I have seen grief like no other. And peanut allergies take no prisoners, it can be so severe and fatal so quickly.

kelly said...

My son has severe peanut allergy, why it happened to him , I've no idea, as his parents and his siblings are nut allergy free. He has had anaphylactic reactions about 5 times now from the age of 4 (when we first realised) and the most recently a few weeks ago, at age 14. he has been hospitalised 3 times, and each time seems worse than the previous, I dont think its much to ask of a school (espescially primary school) to generally ban nut products, as trying to teach a 4 year old to look out for themselves with this matter is just about impossible, obviously they do get pretty savvy and my son is pretty clued up with checking what he eats, however mistakes can occur if peanuts/nuts are around, like I say this happened to him a couple of weeks ago, whe he went for a chinese meal, just thank god he was carrying his epi-pen.

Anonymous said...

My first daughter was allergic to just about anything you could name until she was three or so. So I understand allergy concerns--like when another adult "joked" that they were going to offer her a bagel, which I did not think was very funny at all.

The issue of which way the school goes depends on how you think school should work! If anyone should be able to go to that school, then the school must mandate a safe environment for all students. On the other hand, some children have debilitating conditions that prevent them from attending regular school, and not all systems are set up to handle them. One thing that people tend to forget is that there is not just one schooling option, especially in this day and age. It sounds mean to suggest homeschooling to someone in this situation, but I like to challenge the mindset that the default option is the only one. In fact, I think that there would be a more well-rounded society if it were considered equally normal for any kid to come from a variety of learning arrangements, rather than public students being "normies" and others being "wierd." Kids would interact with each other in community-based activities and learn from each other's experiences rather than being pigeon-holed based on type of student.

Kim said...

You may be "anonymous," but you are heard : ) Thanks for your insight!

I especially like your statement about public students being "normies" and others being "weird." If you ask me, the way we're required to behave in public school is weird! How natural is it to group children of the same age together, keep them in a room, and ask them to sit still?!