Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Peanuts: To Ban or Not To Ban? - Part 2

In Peanuts: To Ban or Not To Ban? - Part 1, I shared my philosophy for managing food allergies at school.  If you read that piece, then you  know that I do not generally support peanut free schools.  But what about specifically?

If my overachievers have taught me anything, it is that there is always an exception.  Always!  And when you are that medically documented exception, it can be incredibly frustrating.  It can take months or even years to convince doctors that your child really is that allergic.  Let's be realistic.  If you had told me 8 years ago that you could not cook anything in your house with peanuts, tree nuts, pork or eggs without causing your child to develop a rash and/or wheezing...  Well I would have probably called you crazy.  And then, after many months, we figured out that was why our baby was fine when he woke up and miserable before breakfast was even served!  With that in mind, now I am going to share what urged me to post my thoughts about peanut bans at school.

There was a recent post on a Facebook page where readers were asked to weigh in on peanut bans at school.  The responses were mixed and downright heated!  My perception - or maybe it is more of a hope - is that those who are so vehemently opposed have limited knowledge about food allergies.  Or perhaps they have a good knowledge of their own food allergies, but they do not recognize that sometimes there are individual situations that are more challenging than their own.  Below is my main response to the discussion - the information that I felt was important enough to share that I needed to bring it over here to my own space.  To be fair, the statement below is as much about allergen free classrooms and the requirement for party food to be allergen free as much as it is about peanut-free schools in general.

1 in 13 school aged children has a food allergy. That works out to 2 students per TN classroom. That is 2 students per class whose lives are potentially endangered by the presence of peanut protein. 

Food proteins are like germs. They are invisibl
e to the naked eye and easily spread from surface to surface by hands, feet, books, bags and just about anything else. Unlike germs, food proteins are not destroyed or removed by hand sanitizer. The only way to remove food proteins is to wash with soap and water. And by wash your hands, I mean lather for at least 20 seconds per the CDC recommendation. Very few people actually observe that full 20 seconds of lathering!

It's not just about what allergic individuals eat. For some patients, ingesting even a minute amount of their allergen can be deadly. Ingestion can mean that the food enters the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose or eyes. It can also mean entry directly to the bloodstream if the student has a break in their skin. Even a paper cut can introduce allergens to the bloodstream if there is an allergen is introduced into the cut.

The next time you see a group of kids, watch closely. How many have food smeared on their faces or their clothes? What surfaces do they come into contact with? (Door handle, desks, pencil sharpener, white board markers, pencils, walls, etc.) Who touches those surfaces next, and then what surfaces do they touch? How many of those kids do you see wiping (or picking) noses or rubbing their eyes? Don't forget to make note of the thumb suckers and nail biters! Every one of these situations creates risk for students with life threatening food allergies - especially if they are reactive to trace proteins.

Now consider this. If a student in your child's class develops anaphylaxis due to the accidental ingestion of peanut protein, your child is there to see it. Your child will see another child struggle to breathe, the administration of an epinephrine injection, potentially CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Your child's classroom will be invaded by adults entering to assist. They will watch their classmate being loaded onto a gurney and wheeled off to be loaded into an ambulance. They will wonder whether their classmate is going to die. And it is very possible that, despite emergency measures taken, that child could die anyway.

Do you really want to explain to your child that their friend experienced a life-threatening, and potentially life-ending, allergic reaction because you didn't think it was necessary to send something other than peanut butter to school for your child to eat?
Again, I do not support blanket bans.  I feel quite strongly that peanut free schools are not necessary for the vast majority of kids with peanut allergies.  Generally speaking, I feel that this is an accommodation that is more about making adults feel better than actually keeping students safe.  But I do support limited bans that are put in place based on physician-documented medical need for avoidance of an allergen.

What it comes down to is this.  If a physician determines a medical need and the school agrees to make an accommodation for that need, it is not my place as the parent of a different child to second-guess the team that made the decision based on medical data.  It is my duty as a member of the school community to support our educators as they are charged with meeting the educational and medical needs of each student in their care.

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