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Allergy fears make parents, schools a little nuts over kids\' eats
The Boston Herald had an article today about the Newton Mass schools and the guidelines they have put in effect. I was pleasantly surprised at how balanced the article was; from the Herald I was expecting a bit more conservative (even reactionary) bent. (No flaming from Herald readers; I freely admit to being a Globe reader.) The parent quotes are very understanding and appreciative of the severity of food allergies. Given how much turmoil there was initially in this school system, that's a good sign.
[b]Allergy fears make parents, schools a little nuts over kids' eats[/b]
By Thea Singer
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
Candy corn on Halloween. Pink candy hearts pleading BE MINE for Valentine's Day. Birthday cupcakes.
They're as American as apple pie.
But starting Thursday, when the doors of Newton's 21 schools open, the kid-friendly noshes will no longer be found in the city's elementary schools.
In May, the Newton School Committee approved a policy to ensure the safety of children with life-threatening food allergies, joining other area districtsincluding Lexington and Hingham with similar rules. The less food in the schools, reasoned the committee, the less chance an offending substance would reach an allergic child.
``We'd provided procedures for dealing with life-threatening allergies, but we didn't have a systemwide set of guidelines to follow,'' said committee chairwoman Dr. Judith Malone Neville, assistant superintendent of Newton schools.
According to the guidelines, that means avoiding food for holidays and schoolwide celebrations, and no allergens such as peanuts in classrooms with allergic children. Nearly 600,000 American children are allergic to peanuts, according to the nonprofit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
``We struggled last year with no food at celebrations,'' said Newton Health Department clinical-services director Linda Walsh, noting about 160 children in the schools have food allergies.
``I think the `no food' has to do with this sexy concern about overweight being a primary concern for schoolchildren,'' said Newton mom Judy Lawrence, whose middle son, age 9, has been in a peanut-free class at Mason-Rice School for several years. ``This is one of the new pathologies du jour.''
Still, Lawrence has no complaints about shelving the PB&J. ``I think it's fair to ask people to be concerned about others' children,'' she said.
Parents in locales without district-wide policies, including Belmont and Boston, face a different challenge. Namely: Can I or can't I?
Every day, Belmont mom Susanne Shavelson has sent her son, Alexander Leopold, 7, to the Winn Brook Elementary School with a peanut butter sandwich. Belmont has no set food policy, said school nurses' director Rosemary Peterson, other than prohibiting food at elementary-school birthday celebrations.
It was one more area that food was being brought in, primarily highly-sugared foods, that had implications for far more of the student body than just kids with allergy issues, Peterson said.
Shavelson expected to be slathering on the peanut butter again this school year. But on Friday, two days after school started, Alexander arrived home with a note requesting that parents not send in foods with nuts, because of classmates' allergies. Shavelson is still puzzling out if that means for lunch, snack or celebrations.
``These allergies are no joke,'' said Shavelson, who claimed little patience for ``picky children.''
``We may be on to soy butter.''