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?

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