Peanut rules annoy some area parents
by Jessica M. Karmasek
Daily Mail staff
Some parents are going nuts over new guidelines prohibiting some students from bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other foods containing peanuts to various schools across Kanawha County.
But school officials say the public outcry over the peanut ban, meant to protect those students with nut allergies, has been exaggerated.
"We're just asking parents to work with us," said Brenda Isaac, lead nurse for the school system.
"If parents must pack something that has nuts, we just want them to let us know. Or, if there's a situation where that's all a child will eat, then of course we'll allow them to have it. But we have to make sure the teacher knows."
That's not what parent Wendy Cross, who has a son and a daughter at Pinch Elementary, said she was told.
Cross said school officials sent a letter home with her son, a first-grader at the elementary school, saying peanuts and peanut butter were not allowed at the school, and that the school would be peanut-free by the end of the first week.
She says her daughter, Holly, a kindergarten student at Pinch, was left hungry after her teacher took away the child's peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
"I had sent a note with my son, saying he would only eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I didn't send a note with my daughter because I didn't realize it applied to kindergarten, too," Cross said.
"When I went to pick up my daughter at the bus stop that day, she came off shaking. I asked her what was wrong and she said nothing. I looked in her lunch box and it was still full, except for her banana. I asked her why she didn't eat her lunch and she said the teacher told her she wasn't allowed," she said.
School officials contend they are not forcing, but merely strongly suggesting that students leave behind any nutty substances to help protect other students who are allergic.
They don't even use the term "peanut-free." Schools, if they choose to ban or prohibit the nutty foods, prefer the expression "peanut-restricted."
"Obviously, we have to be respectful of health problems that all our children have in the school system. If they have a peanut allergy, then we have to make sure -- it's our responsibility -- to make sure their lives are not jeopardized," said Ron Duerring, Kanawha Schools superintendent.
Isaac agreed, "I think we've got to remember that this might be inconvenient for
one child, but life-threatening for another. We have to do what's going to keep kids safe. If we put that child's life in jeopardy, then we're negligent."
Still, some parents say peanut butter and jelly is the most affordable lunch option for their children.
Some cannot afford to buy Lunchables, packed with crackers, meats and cheeses, or packaged deli meats for sandwiches. Many young children won't eat such foods, parents say.
But Isaac said there are other options. School administrators, she says, will work with families to provide more affordable, enjoyable peanut-free options for students, if necessary.
"If their family is free-and-reduced lunch eligible, they don't need to send peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," she said.
If peanut butter and jelly is all a child will eat, then it will be allowed, Isaac said. But a note to his or her teacher is required.
Last year, there were 22 students with peanut allergies in Kanawha County. That number is probably higher this year, Isaac said. About 20 schools had peanut-restricted policies last year, she said. She expects the number of schools to jump this year.
"We're definitely seeing more students at the elementary level with the allergy, but also a growing number at the secondary level," Isaac said.
She says the peanut problem is more closely monitored at elementary schools, where children are messier and not as conscious of possible allergic reactions.
Kathy Whitlock, a school nurse at John Adams Middle School, Holz Elementary and Overbrook Elementary, agreed, "The kids are messier when they're younger. They're not as good about washing their hands."
Officials say they don't search lunch bags. That would be too intrusive and too hard to manage, especially at area middle school and high schools, which have upwards of 600 to 800 students.
"The older kids should know and be able to tell their friends or teachers,