Tuesday, March 13, 2012

School Board Meeting

Last night, I spoke at a school board meeting on a proposed ban on peanuts in our district. I took many articles and my ideas, and came up with the below, that I spoke on at the meeting...


The Food Service Advisory Board has met 2 times recently and have spoken at length about food allergies, and what the ********** School District should do to protect these students.

At this time, our board would like to ask the School Board to follow through with the letter that was sent home to the families in the district. This would mean that nothing containing peanuts or peanut butter would be provided or sold by the schools. We also want to discourage families from sending peanut products with their children in their sack lunches or for class treats. If peanuts or peanut butter is brought by students, these children will be assigned to a lunch table away from other students.

Right now, the ******** School District has around 40 children with a life-threatening peanut allergy. *****: 10 *****: 6 *****: 9 *****: 10 *****: 8 I also contacted 4 preschools in town, and in just 4 schools, there are 12 children as well. These allergies are not going away, and are not isolated to only one building, but they are spread throughout the schools. Studies show that 16-18% of children with food allergies will have a reaction to accidental exposure while in school. These exposures happen in multiple locations throughout the school, and are not limited to just the cafeteria. And, studies also show that as the children get older, as teenagers and young adults, they are at an even higher risk of a fatal reaction. It's not just an issue for elementary children.

There are school districts in (OUR STATE) that are abiding by peanut free policies in some nature. (EXAMPLE) Elementary School has a peanut prohibition that is in effect 24 hours a day 7 days a week. All of (EXAMPLE) Elementary schools state they are PEANUT FREE. Brandon Valley requires that all items made with peanuts not be allowed into the Elementary School. (EXAMPLE) prohibits the use, serving, or selling of peanuts. (EXAMPLE) School District is peanut-Free. In (EXAMPLE CITY) , (EXAMPLE) , (EXAMPLE) , (EXAMPLE) , and (EXAMPLE) schools are peanut free. (EXAMPLE) Elementary is also.

That is what the board has met and has agreed upon to bring before you tonight.

I myself would like to see the district go above and beyond this. While I understand that a complete peanut ban can seem unreasonable, I do think that more than what our board is advising is required. I believe that all children and staff should be prohibited from bringing to school any food products that contain peanuts, peanut oil, and peanut butter. I also believe that no products containing peanuts should be sold at concession stands or sold in vending machines in or on the school grounds.

I fully understand that to make this possible, other children, parents and staff will have to make substitutions in their lunches to protect children with food allergies like Avery. I realize also that this may seem extreme to some, especially since some children refuse to eat anything but peanut butter and jelly. While I am sympathetic, let me explain why this is as important as it is.

A lot of people do not understand the severity of peanut allergies. The reason is rather obvious: education. I will admit before Avery's allergies were discovered, I had no idea how life-threatening food allergies could be. Once Avery was diagnosed, we had to re-evaluate everything that was brought into our home, every place we went, and everyone that would come in contact with our daughter. Once she became 5 and ready for school, our anxiety and hers, increased to the point where we held her back a year so she could be more capable of managing her allergies.

I have heard time and time again, well, “why can't these kids just learn what to eat and what not to eat?” The answer is that these kids ARE taught...and once they're old enough to understand, most will only eat the approved foods. The problem in the school setting is peanut residue. Peanut butter is very troublesome because it is sticky and oily and not easily cleaned off of hands. Unseen residue on lunchroom tables, library books, bathroom fixtures, art materials, pencils, computer keyboards, desks, basketballs, and water fountains can cause immediate reactions with an allergic child. If the peanut allergic child accidentally touches some of this residue and then rubs their eyes or nose or mouth, they can react within seconds. These reactions can be mild such as hives, or as serious as anaphalaxis. Anaphalaxis is when a child's throat can swell shut, blood pressure can drop rapidly, and they can literally drop dead within minutes of even a trace of this peanut residue. Some children, by just smelling a peanut product, can have a deadly reaction.

I am fully aware that it's almost impossible to monitor each child in the district to be sure that they thoroughly wash their hands before and after lunch, and for each table to be cleaned with special cleaners, for the musical instruments that my daughter is going to touch to be cleaned before she touches them, and the paint brush, and the bathrooms, etc.......it seems to me that eliminating the chance of peanut exposure to these children all together would be far safer than dealing with each and every instance that a peanut butter sandwich is brought into school. It would be easier on the child, and also easier on the staff at the schools.

Peanut bans in schools are NOT immoral. These are very real, and very serious unchosen and unwelcomed allergies. Peanuts are a genuine threat to the child, and if they are severely allergic, they can die before getting the appropriate treatment. You can't necessarily know how severe any given reaction will be.

I know that some, and maybe some in this room, feel that these children with food allergies should go to a private school or should be home schooled as to not be an “inconvenience” to the parents of “normal” children. My child has what I consider to be a “special need”, and just like others in our district that receive care, thanks to Section 504, my child has the right to be accommodated any place that receives federal assistance, and that includes our schools. Ultimately, when I drop Avery off to school in the morning, I am entrusting her care to the school. They, then have the responsibility of taking care of her and not exposing her to undue danger, and peanuts deliberately exposes her to a unreasonable risk of harm.

When I hear that a parent is upset by not being able to pack a peanut butter sandwich with their child, I try to remind myself how lucky they are. Yes, It's hard when they are saying things that scare me to the core for my allergic child. Yet, they have never had to live with Epi-pens, ER visits, countless allergy tests, and a fear that never ever goes away. Nothing is worse than realizing that your child's school environment is unsafe, each and every day because of parents who fight NOT to have empathy or understanding. Every day we send our children to school, and pray that we don't receive that dreaded phone call.

The debate, to me, boils down to my child's life, or your kid's lunch....it's as simple as that. To keep my child alive and safe, or your child content. The fact that some people don't want to be inconvenienced by prohibiting peanut butter, does not negate the life threatening nature of this allergy......hopefully other students, staff, and parents value the life of my allergic child more than they value their peanut butter sandwich.

The challenge that is being presented to our schools is to create a safe environment for ALL students. The challenge for other parents is to put themselves in the shoes of these students and their parents, and understanding that these precautions that the schools are taking, while they can be an inconvenience, really are necessary.

I hope that you as school board members will understand the severity of what these allergic children and families deal with every day, and help to implement a policy that will keep these children safe.

2 comments:

Becky said...

Jennisa,

This is SO excellent. I am glad you were able to voice your opinions and concerns. You are so right about the ignorance of this important issue. I had NO clue about allergies until Avery and I am glad you educated me. I hope that other parents learned the seriousness of allergies too.

Also, I agree that it does boil down to a peanut butter sandwich vs. a child's life - that was a fantastic (and TRUE) comparison. I sure hope that message hit home with the school board and the parents.

Did you receive a standing ovation?

Linda said...

I, too, am the mother of a child with multiple and life-threatening allergies including all nuts. My own child has had a reaction from touching the playground equipment at school. Your speech was well written and informative. I pray that the school district finds the wisdom to keep these children safe.

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