Say No To Peanut Free Schools


Peanut Free School for KidsWhen I was growing up, there was no such thing as a “peanut free school”, at least as far as I knew. I had a few friends who carried around Epipens, and I remember learning how to use one at the staff orientation for a camp that I worked at. Things have certainly changed in the past two decades. Now the country is full of peanut free schools, camps and play areas. It’s great that public spaces are trying to accommodate the needs of all children. However, the real question is whether any of this makes a real difference in the lives of children with severe allergies.

While it is certainly a responsible idea to keep allergens away from children who could potentially be harmed by them, food allergies are not limited to peanuts. I know plenty of children with severe allergies to certain kinds of fruits, does that mean that their schools should ban all kids from bringing those fruits? Why should the children with peanut allergies get better accommodations than children with all of the other allergies out there? It is obviously impossible to completely remove anything that even one child in the school might be allergic to from the premises, but it also doesn’t really make sense in that case to only “favor” one kind of allergy, when there can be many others that are just as severe.

In addition to the rising popularity of peanut free schools, there is also an increased number of schools offering gluten free school lunch. The number of children who no longer eat gluten is increasing rapidly. In the case of gluten, it is often not an allergy per se, but rather a sensitivity, or a health preference. While offering gluten free school lunch is laudable, the same question arises as to whether this is fair to people who have other sensitivities or health preferences. Additionally, if making lunches gluten free across the board causes an increase in cost, or the amount of time it takes to prepare lunches, I’m not sure it’s fair to assume that the school district, or all of the parents should be expected to absorb the costs.

It seems that the best way to accommodate allergies and sensitivities is by giving options. There is no proof  that peanut-free schools see a lower incidence of allergic reactions, but it does seem that having peanut-free tables within a school makes a difference. Now, I am not suggesting that we isolate the students with allergies. That seems cruel and unnecessary. However, perhaps a school can request for a specific class that has a child with a peanut allergy in it, to only bring peanut free foods, so their lunch table will effectively become peanut free. And the same could go for any other severe food allergy.

In general, any sort of baking project or anything that involves the students handling food should be arranged with sensitivity to the needs of all the individuals in the class. No matter what combination of allergies there is in your particular group of students, there should be a way for everyone to participate safely, even if that means adjusting the recipe. It is also of utmost importance to ensure that all utensils, bowls and baking pans have been properly cleaned in advance to avoid contact with residue from substances that could be dangerous to some students.

When it comes to protecting students with severe allergies, the school community needs to be both proactive and reactive. Encouraging the allergic student, or one of their parents, to explain to the class why it is important for them to be careful, and how to look out for warning signs of an allergic reaction in their classmate is extremely important. All students should know what the proper procedure is in the event of a severe reaction from their peer in school.

Even though the likelihood of a child dying from contact with an allergen is very small, the trauma and injury they can suffer from having a severe reaction in school is significant. There is a large range of possible reactions, including severe digestive problems, itching and closing of airways, and there is no reason any student should ever have to experience these, if we can help it.

I am opposed to the idea of peanut free schools because I think they create a false sense of security, and that they favor one type of allergy over the others. However, I do think it is of utmost importance to accommodate the allergic students in our class to the best of our abilities. While we can’t protect them from everything, we can teach them and their peers to be vigilant and sensitive, important life skills we can all afford to develop.

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