Arkansas School Peanut Ban Leads to Major Controversy

By now, we’re all aware of the seemingly ever-increasing peanut allergies in our kids (according to the CDC, now 1 in 25 kids suffer from a peanut allergy). Parents of peanut-allergic kids may have banned the nuts from the pantry at home, but when it comes time to send their kids to school, many are coming up against frustrating resistance from parents of children who aren’t allergic.

Yahoo! Shine reports on a fiery debate taking place in Viola, Arkansas, where a student had his PB&J sandwich confiscated and a note sent home to his mother explaining the school’s no-peanut-products policy (in place because of a few students with allergies). Note: the teacher helped the child get a new lunch, so it’s not like he was forced to go hungry, but the mom of that student, a nurse practitioner, Denise Clifton-Jones, suggested that parents of severely allergic kids should teach their children “’how to manage the problem. Placing kids in a ‘bubble’ is not managing anything,’” reports Missouri-based Area Wide News.

After Clifton-Jones addressed the sandwich incident on her Facebook page, she got so many responses that she started a “School Nut Ban Discussion” page on Facebook, which is currently closed to comments, after being swamped with them following the Shine article’s publication, which has garnered over 9,200 comments since yesterday.

On one side of the issue are the families of nut-allergic kids, some of whom can go into anaphylactic shock (a life-threatening reaction whose symptoms can include loss of consciousness and swelling in the throat, which can be severe enough to block the airway in a matter of seconds or minutes) simply by breathing certain foods or being touched by someone who has handled the allergen—making the presence of peanuts and peanut products a question of life or death.

On the other side of the issue are the families of kids who aren’t allergic to nuts (maybe they don’t have any allergies—or maybe they’re allergic to other food products that aren’t banned in schools). They may feel it’s unfair to be asked to accommodate children with allergies, especially when their own children may be picky eaters (read: solely interested in PB&J at lunchtime) or may have other reasons for wanting to pack PB&J, like those with sensory issues or autism. And of course, PB&J is an inexpensive lunch option—which means a lot for some families in tough economic times.

The founder of the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a nut allergy advocacy group, told the Associated Press that she believes compromise is better for kids with allergies than an outright ban. “What we want is everyone always thinking there could be a possibility (of an allergic reaction) and be on guard for it.”

Although we’re lucky enough to not have to deal with food allergies or sensitivities in my family, both of my children’s schools are “peanut-sensitive” rather than “peanut-free” for now, meaning that kids with peanut allergies sit at a separate table for lunchtime, away from any potential allergens. Of course the American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that such a set-up may ultimately lead to social ostracism for kids with allergies, though. Sigh.

What’s your take on peanut bans in schools? Do you have a child with a peanut allergy? Do you support them, or do you feel they are unfair to the majority of kids who aren’t allergic?

Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Melanie Monroe Rosen is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and mom of two boys, ages 3 and 5, who is currently expecting her third (and very much final) baby in early 2013. A former senior editor at Parenting.com, Melanie was surprised to discover that all of her experience breastfeeding, homebirthing, babywearing, co-sleeping, and cloth diapering actually counted as professional experience. She’s a big fan of reading both Scandinavian mystery novels (to herself) and favorite chapter books from her childhood, like those by Roald Dahl (to her kids).

10 COMMENTS

  1. my son is allergic to latex, and when he started this year at a new school, the school did everything they could to make the building safe for him. But, we also said, I realize there are 500 kids here that don’t have this allergy, it’s not fair to force this on them too. We came to a compromise, no latex in his classroom (which was already in place because it’s a special education classroom, and these kids tend to have more allergies to start with), and no latex in the common areas. However, the playgrounds have latex ground coverings, and there are bicycles in the gym, I said that’s fine, as long as my son avoids direct contact with it, and direct contact with others who have touched it. I think it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children how to live in the world safely with any allergy, the issue is with small children who don’t necessarily understand the consequences, or ever remember that it’s something they have to think about. While our kids are at school, it’s the staff’s job to take care of our children, and our job to educate the staff on how to do that. You don’t complain about “why does the school have a wheel chair ramp, my child doesn’t need that”, well, that’s why there’s a stair case too.it’s the same thing, we all need to work together as parents to come up with a compromise that keeps everyone safe and happy at school. A total ban is a bit strict, but I think we need to be considerate of others needs and make some accommodations. People who don’t have, or who aren’t exposed to special needs kids don’t realize how scary it is (just like we don’t realize how bad any medical issue unless you have it), we do have to avoid going to a lot of places, and denying both of our kids certain things to keep our son safe. I think we need to work together to make our schools safe for all kids.

  2. I think the better question is WHY are so many kids dealing with FA these days? I can only think of a handful of people (maybe less) that I’ve known growing up through school with FA, now kids have them left and right.

  3. To answer Arlen’s question, YES… Families with kids with severe allergies barely go out. We didn’t take our daughter to restaurants for years because she would always come home with a rash just from contact with surfaces that had traces of allergens, even after wiping the table with baby wipes. And every time we went to a park/museum/etc I would be stressed out about potential contact with allergens and constantly wiping my kid’s hands. People who have not had to deal with allergies have no idea how stressful and scary it can be. Families should be able to feel confident that their kids are safe at school and sometimes that means peanut free classrooms, for all the reasons that Sarah explained.

  4. I have had children in my school that have severe allergies and have had to handle situations that have arisen due to those allergies. I think that we tread on people’s rights by making a ban because of a few select. It is not fair for the students that do not have allergies to have to do without what they want because someone else can not have it. Unfortunately, people with health and other issues have to make adjustments in their life to deal with those issues. It is just reality. To effect everyone because of one’s health problem is just unfair. They do not take microwaves out of the lunch room because a teacher or parent has a pacemaker, no they put a sign on it to let them know of the danger. That is what they need to do for the children. They can assign a peanut free area for lunch and allow other students that are not eating peanut products to sit together so the child is not isolated. Have all students wash their hands after lunch. The right thing to do is to make some modifications not completely deprive all students. These children are going to have to live in the real world and learn how to handle their issues at some point in their life, and entering school is where it starts. Before long, all of our choices will be taken away from us if we continue to let this type of thing happen.

    • Just had to point out to few things in your argument. You say”It is not fair for the students that do not have allergies to have to do without what they want because someone else can not have it. However you underestimate the risk of death by stating that a food is ban only because some CANT HAVE IT. The correct statement is A food is banned because some CAN DIE or have ANAPHYLAXIS as a result of coming into contact with that food by being confided in one building during 8 hours a day where many would consume the deadly product. It usually does not happen in the real world that you are put in a building for 8 hours, days after days with 100 snakes moving around freely. Peanut butter to some is like a poison that can take their lives away within minutes. The residue is hard to wipe off the surface and the protein in the residue that causes the deadly allergy it more difficult to trace and wiped. Again, how would u feel to send your child to a school after you get a notice that there are snakes available in the building. 2- You say “These children are going to have to live in the real world and learn how to handle their issues at some point in their life, and entering school is where it starts”. True but not for a 4 year old, or 6 years old. My child by age 2 knew that peanut was bad. In fact, he even heard from me that it could kill him. Mere Knowledge does not help to management of a situation. Children’s judgment and management at young age is impaired. I as a mother, you as a human fellow, should not put my under teen age child into LIFE THREATENING position to make him learn how to cope with their health condition. He will eventually learn it and I will make sure of that before he graduates from high school but certainly not during the pre-k or elementary years. Again, all of our children would have to drive at some point and learn to protect themselves from reckless drivers. Would you sit in the passenger seat and supervise you 10 year old who knows how to drive go behind the wheel and set off. It is always easy to talk the talk but dont tell me you’d walk the walk before you walk a mile in my shoe!

  5. That’s not a very educated response. Of course children with peanut allergies go to parks, and of course kids eat peanut butter and jelly at picnics, and should be allowed to, HOWEVER, in THAT situation, the parent is responsible for the child. The parent stays with their child, watching them, making sure nothing happens, or if they see a child eating too closely then they take their kid to another park. A school situation is entirely different, a teacher is responsible for 30 children, on the playground the recess supervisors are responsible for even more. At the park, it is the PARENTS job to respond quickly, which cannot be guaranteed at recess. It’s a peanut. It could KILL a child. It is one tiny food that fortunate non-allergic kids can live without for 6 hours a day. No one is asking them to give up their precious golden gem for life, just.. don’t take it to school.

  6. My children are not allergic to peanuts. But both of their schools are peanut-free. I have no problem with this as I would feel awful if another child had a reaction because of their food. They can wait to get home to have peanut butter!

  7. I really do feel for the kids, and parents of kids, with a severe peanut allergy. However I think to ban it all together at school is crazy! When you go to a park are you going to tell everyone in a 10 mile radius that is having a picnic that they can’t have a PB&J????? Yeah, I don’t think so.

  8. I’m just curious….if they are banning things like this from schools because of the allergies of these children, then do these families with kids who are allergic to peanuts and other things like this just keep their children at home and never go out? Because I can guarantee you that many, many restaurants have peanuts in their facilities or other types of nuts. I think it is incredibly unfair to prohibit such a common food from a school because of a few allergies. Our schools here ban latex and anything containing it. This really isn’t a huge deal because of what this item is, but peanut butter? I would be quite upset too.

    • You are right Arlen, we dont eat at restaurants. When I travel, I carry meals and snacks in my bag. No room for magazine, book or pillow. Sometimes, I’d have to warm my child’s meal at the airport. I use hot water to do that. The only two places he’d eat at, is Chick-Fil-A and Mcdonald’s. He has never had ice-cream during a zoo visit or grocery shopping. He never goes to a friend’s BD unless I am present with his medication and of course, his meal and peanut/nut free. cupcake and snacks. His life would be full of restriction. He wont be able to grab a coffee at Starbucks. I feel sorry for my child but I’d never want him to feel sorry for himself. This is life. I have no problem if people enjoy meal and food around him and I’d have to tell him no you cant have because it’d kill you. I never stop anyone from having anything because of my son if we are in public places or we are in a private gathering where I could leave at my will if I sense potential risk. But I cannot home-school him for two reasons. 1- English is not my first language and I am not familiar with academic system in the USA. 2- My son should not be deprived from a socializing at young age only because to some parents having a PNT butter sandwich at school is the only way to satisfy their children. I just don’t understand why a child cannot eat his PNT sandwich at breakfast, be guided by parents to wash his hands before leaving school in order to save another child’s life from potential death. They do that in Canada and seems like the nation is surviving the inconvenience!

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