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Peanut Free and Nut Free
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Act responsibly: Ban nut products from our schools
By RAMONA VALENCIA
June 22, 2007
Recent coverage in the Register described school districts' strategies to protect children with nut allergies, including consideration of bans on nut products. The Register editorialized that such bans would be unenforceable.
Please remember that many students start school at age 5 and that several programs start earlier. It is difficult for a child who is asphyxiating to death to communicate with or educate teachers and fellow students.
According to the Register's logic, if a ban isn't foolproof, why bother? All laws and bans come with challenges and obstacles, but with diligence, desire and commitment, they can make a difference. Should we repeal all laws that are unenforceable and inconvenient?
The Civil Rights Act is difficult to enforce, even today, and many opposed it, but decades later, our country is better for it. Many in the real-estate industry claimed the Americans with Disabilities Act would be too expensive and impossible to force. Decades later, the real-estate industry didn't collapse, and buildings are accessible to our physically handicapped citizens. We have seat-belt laws and speed limits that are difficult to enforce, yet they save lives daily.
Many school policies and rules are not completely enforceable. Policies prohibit guns on school campuses, yet we can't check every backpack, purse, gym bag or car in the parking lot. Nor can we search every student, visitor and employee. Such bans haven't prevented all school shootings, yet we keep them in place. Similarly, anti-bullying and discrimination laws in schools aren't entirely enforceable. Teachers and administrators cannot monitor every student's words and actions, yet we have those policies.
The Register also suggested that children with this disability learn to "live in the real world." With such logic, it would follow that all children with special needs learn to live in the real world. There would be no need for special education or for schools to be accessible to the physically handicapped.
Why provide crossing guards, since children need to learn to cross the street independently? To prepare students for the real world, why create an artificial environment of any kind? Why not remove all policies that provide safety and security in school?
Every peanut-butter sandwich brought into a school is like a gun pointed at a child with this disability. Should we point a gun at every "typical" student so they are given this learning opportunity as well? Allowing peanut butter in schools is a form of bullying directed at the disabled student. Thankfully, laws guarantee our special-needs students the RIGHT to have an appropriate, accessible educational environment available to them in all schools, public and private. In contrast, there is nothing in the Constitution that gives "typical" students the right to eat peanut butter in school.
Parents of hidden-disability students are fully aware every moment of their responsibility to prepare their child for the real world. They have ample "opportunities" outside of school to teach their children how to manage their disability. The school setting is not the forum in which to do this.
The ironic truth is that in the "real world" children with this disability have control and the ability to manage their allergy. In schools, they are forced to learn in a life-threatening environment they can't control.
School-lunch programs all over this country, including many in the Des Moines area, have already adapted their hot-lunch programs to be peanut-free. Labels can be read and menus can be created that provide nutritious and safe lunches to all children.
The Register's flawed logic disguises what's at the core of this issue: Parents don't want to sacrifice the convenience of a peanut-butter sandwich. And they don't want to do their job, which is to teach their children caring, respect, responsibility, fairness, trustworthiness and citizenship. Those are the six pillars of the Character Counts program, which is taught in schools, both public and private, across the country.
Perhaps, adults need a refresher course on these values.
RAMONA VALENCIA lives in West Des Moines and is the mother of four, including twins with a peanut allergy and a son with Down Syndrome.