Peanut Allergies: To Cater or Not to Cater

I recently read a mother’s discern over her children being prohibited from eating peanut products in school because a few students had peanut allergies. She obviously did not have the experience of parenting a child with peanut allergies. Most children with peanut allergies are prone to asthma and depending on the severity of their allergy, an asthmatic attack may easily be triggered by even the smell of peanuts. I would ask this mom to imagine getting a call from work informing her that her son or daughter had to be rushed to a hospital because they came in contact with residue from a peanut product an adjacent student had on their hands.

It is mandated by the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) that schools provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities for free and equal access to education. Allowing a child to suffer from a mishap as illustrated in the above paragraph would subject school administrations and districts to lawsuits for not providing reasonable accommodations for free and equal access to an equitable lunch experience.

On the flipside, I have seen schools go overboard in their accommodations. At one school, I recall a student with a severe peanut allergy was to be the first one off his bus when he arrived at school and the last one on when he went home. He was escorted daily to his classroom in the morning and he had to wait in a separate location for an aide to escort him onto his bus at dismissal. The aide rode with him to his bus stop as well. The child took no responsibility for himself.

Children in this boy’s class are not allowed to bring anything that may have peanut products into the classroom. They must wash their hands before coming into the room after lunch. Where is the parent educating the child how to take care of himself?

My daughter was diagnosed with an allergy to peanuts and all legumes at the age of two. She broke out in hives and sometimes her tongue swelled, having the potential to cut off her airway. Her father and I informed her daycare about the diagnosis. We were required to provide food substitutes that she could consume during lunch and snack times. On Halloween or Christmas, we provided the candies she could eat. Children were taught not to touch my daughter while they were eating because of her sensitivity to peanuts and legumes. The kids complied. My daughter knew at that age what she could and could not eat and let people know.

There was an unfortunate incident where a student helping to bring a bowl of peas to the lunch table tripped and spilled its contents all over my daughter. She immediately broke out into a full body rash. The daycare called and I rushed from work to administer medicine.

When my daughter started kindergarten, we told her teacher about the allergies. She called the cafeteria manager and we met with her immediately. She asked to meet my daughter so that she could see her in line and only serve the appropriate foods. She sent menus in advance, my daughter and I picked what menu items she would like and could have and determined what days she would bring lunch from home if necessary. The cafeteria manager retrained her staff on not using the serving spoons and other utensils interchangeably among the food trays. I believe the school did all they needed to do. My daughter was educated on her condition and she chose to sit next to students who did not have peanuts or legumes for lunch. Everyone took just the right amount of responsibility.

My daughter was allowed to take the van to her daycare after school with no extra accommodations. She refused offers of chocolate or peanut butter crackers, etc. because she knew what they could do to her.

I think schools should try to limit exposure to food allergens, but keep in mind that accidents do happen. Who could have foreseen the cascading bowl of peas? What about that kid who grabs the restroom door with chocolate or peanut butter on his hands before washing them? At some point, the child and the parents must take control.

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