In today’s age of metal detectors at school doors, security guards, and ID cards, parents would think student’s safety assured, but an increased threat to student’s health and safety has infiltrated all of these measures. Peanut butter sandwiches have long been a staple of student lunches, but recently parents of children with peanut allergies have begun to question the safety of allowing them in schools. A recent New York Times article looked at school policies that have changed the availability of peanut butter to students.
“Prodded by parents warning of lethal allergies, by the contentions of some researchers that peanut allergies are on the rise and, not least, by a fear of litigation, growing numbers of public and private schools across the country … have banned peanut butter from their cafeterias. Others have declared peanut-free zones or set up committees to figure out what to do. (NYTimes.com, 1998)”
While some schools have chosen to ban the substance all together, others have made it available in sealed packets with separate utensils away from other foods, and others still have created peanut butter free tables that are cleaned down after meals and kept away from any peanut butter, or peanut containing products.
These requests to ban peanut butter, or reduce its presence in schools were once contained within the alternative school spectrum. However, with the rise of peanut allergies, these bans have extended into mainstream school systems, often within districts having large parental influence. Parents of students with allergies have strongly pushed school boards to reconsider food regulations with the threat of litigation. After Peanut Allergies were ruled a disability within the airline industry, parents were given the legal backing to request peanut bans within their child’s school as per the American’s with Disabilities Act.
For these parents, the danger of their child going into anaphylactic shock is very real. Their children are forced to carry Epi-Pens with them at all times in school. Epi-pens administer a potentially lifesaving dose of epinephrine, but it must be administered immediately, and even then there is no guarantee that it will stop anaphylaxis. Even a well informed child can still be in danger. A child may be trained from a young age not to touch peanut butter, but it is often from a hidden source that they risk exposure. Cross contamination is very common in schools, particularly in the younger grades. If a classmate has a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and then touches a doorknob, or toy, the child with the allergy is now at risk. A simple touch to the eyes or nose, and that child could die.
In many schools, these requests have been met with a strong backlash from other parents in the district. The ban on peanut butter has been seen as outrageous, unnecessary, and detrimental to their child’s well being. For a parent whose child only eats peanut butter, they are faced with the dilemma of finding a suitable alternative, or having their child go seven hours without eating. Others feel that peanut bans give children and parents a false sense of security. Parents in an MSNBC article commented on how schools should prepare students for the real world, and would need to learn how to coexist with peanut butter throughout life and that a ban would be doing them a disservice by putting them off their guard. And so the battle continues back and forth.
Parents with an afflicted child often takes the stance of “What is more important, my child’s life, or your child’s lunch?” (NYTimes.com, 1998)” It seems simple, why should they put their child’s life in jeopardy because another child is a picky eater? Other questions must be raised however. What if that other child is from a poor family? Peanut butter is the most inexpensive protein available and often the only source of protein in a child’s diet. For parents who can’t afford to provide their child lunch, peanut butter offers school systems the ability to provide lunch for those children without depleting their already shrinking budgets. What if a child is a picky eater, but they are also hypoglycemic or diabetic? These children must eat lunch or else they can have dangerous drops in blood sugar and blood pressure. Shouldn’t these children also be covered under the ADA? And lastly, why should an entire school of children conform for the sake of one child? The real world does not function that way, why should the school system? As questions continue to be raised, parents are pitted against one another, leaving school districts caught in a very difficult position. This is not an argument that will resolve itself any time in the near future, but with allergies on the rise, and parents gaining ground, its an argument that people will be hearing far more about.