Doctors Disagree on Whether Schools Should be Peanut-Free

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The number of children with food allergies has risen dramatically over the past few decades. According to current estimates, nearly 8% of kids in the U.S. have a food allergy, with the most common being an allergy to peanuts. Attempts to keep these children has resulted in significant debate over whether classrooms and schools should be peanut-free.

The Huffington Post recently interviewed three doctors --- Stanley Fineman, M.D., Scott H. Sicherer, M.D., and Wayne Shreffler, M.D. -- about their opinions regarding whether classrooms and schools should be peanut-free in an effort to prevent allergic reactions.

Doctors Weigh In

Dr. Fineman believes that schools should not be peanut-free. He argues that peanut-free classrooms "present a false sense of security" because peanut residue may still be present even in "peanut-free" schools. Children with allergies should always be prepared for an allergic reaction, despite the measures in place to protect them from one. Dr. Shreffler agrees that the peanut-free approach can lead to a false sense of security.

Dr. Scott Sicherer says "There are many ways to manage food allergy in schools." While he notes that peanut-free classrooms or allergen-safe lunch tables could be useful, he advocates for policies to prevent children from ingesting food likely to cause an allergic reaction, such as policies against using food in craft projects or students sharing or trading lunches. He also notes that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce bans on other common allergens such as milk or egg.

What do you think? Should lunch tables, classrooms, and schools be peanut-free to keep children with peanut allergies safe?

Source: Huffington Post

By acslobod on Thu, 01-17-13, 11:21

I have very mixed emotions. When my son was about to enter school, PB&Js were still on the menu. I fought to have them removed and they were just before he started school. They allow kids to bring in PB&Js which, of course, I wish they wouldn't b/c my son is airborne to PN. He too had a reaction from a child sitting behind him eating a PB&J. So, they put a buffer table of only school lunches between the bagged lunches and the allergy table. That works. DD though is airborne to dairy and eggs. How can I ask the school to remove those things from the lunch menu?? I asked that only fruits and veggies be allowed in classrooms and that is in place now district wide but, will they remove pizza and nachos from the menu? I doubt it. I won't lie, I asked. Heated cheese is the worst for her. If they did though, it would be district wide for 5 schools (3k students I bet). I think cold cut sandwiches and pastas would be healthier alternatives anyhow. It is all just very tricky. I think every situation needs to be taken and evaluated on a case by case basis. It seems there is so much focus on peanuts when in reality; other foods can be just as life threatening. I think the false sense of security comes from people outside of the allergy community who think "well we banned peanuts so now we are an allergy safe school". I really wish the focus was off of peanuts and on "Life Threatening", "Anaphylactic" Allergies. As it is now, we have it set up for our daughter to eat outside of the cafeteria to prevent airborne reactions. Next year though, she will be in a smaller school with poor ventilation and the cafeteria in the center of school. Even being outside of the cafeteria poses life threatening issues on pizza days. So, would a peanut ban help her then? Nope. Thankfully the school principal is amazing and is already working with me on altering schedules, creating a portable classroom, providing an aid and options for home-bound studies, etc... I wish doctors and anaphylactic organizations would get it together and stop making blanket statements. They really need to stand behind their patients and practice what they preach. Anaphylaxis is unpredictable! There is no cure! Avoidance is the only safety net! Carry your meds 100% of the time! And allergens and reaction severities vary from person to person and can change at any time... do being prepared is key. Schools should be accommodating individual students as needed to keep them safe and included.

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By gmlmom on Tue, 01-15-13, 18:26

I understand this is a tough issue for everyone. My daughter is allergic to peanuts at the airborne. As the person commented earlier. Many people think always about ingesting or touching the allergin, but not breathing. My daughter is extremely careful and so are her friends. Having said that, in the last 2 yrs all reactions were at school and all were airborne. She sits at a table dedicated to no nuts. However, at the table behind her a girl was eating a PB&J and my daughter did not realize until her throat started itching and realized what was happening. I think schools should be completely nut free, both peanuts and tree nuts. Children still have to assume that there are nuts and still be deligent. Any child with an allergy knows that they must always be deligent so I don't think that will change just because a school chooses to be nut free.

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By nursenik on Tue, 01-15-13, 17:30

I totally agree that allergen free classrooms/ schools give a false sense of security. We had an autistic child with a severe form of celiac disease and his parents and some school staff wanted a gluten free classroom. The classroom had signs posted that it was a gluten free room. Unfortunately somebody brought in a box of animal crackers that were not gluten free. The teacher noticed this and put the box up on a shelf. A classroom aide saw them and thought they were for snack time. She gave them to the boy with celiac disease. He ended up being admitted to the hospital for 2 nights with uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. The parents were obviously upset and this little boy was very ill for a few days. Education is the key – not banning certain food from schools. No matter how hard we try, the schools can never be allergen free with everything the kids bring in.

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By phscott98 on Wed, 01-16-13, 16:05

Allergen free classrooms don't give a false sense of security to children or parents. It provides an environment that feels safe for a child to learn, grow, and develop.

The education is VITAL! But if we only educate who is held accountable for their actions. Law enforcement and any person in possession of a gun is to know how to properly handle that deadly weapon. And they are held accountable for the actions if it is intentionally set off or purposefully. Investigations are done to determine a root cause analysis of the problem and then policies and procedures are put in place to prevent further harm.

This is not a FALSE sense of security. This is a matter of education, accountability, and caring for the life of another human being.
If you knew that your child would die from ingesting a product, why would you ever feed it to them? Its a matter of everyone being aware of their surroundings and doing their best to protect children and people who can't always advocate verbally for themselves.

By Hanishmom on Tue, 01-15-13, 16:38

I think schools should be peanut free... even nut free with the growing concern for the allergy. It would never give me false security to know that it is peanut free. I teach my five year old that it is her responsibility not to share items and to know what the item is before eating it. My school does have her epi-pen on hand at all times and she does eat at a peanut free table but she has had a reaction at school because there is peanut butter and jelly offered at lunch everyday and not every child washes their hands. Also it is important to note that my daughter's allergic reaction is also airborne. So she doesn't have to ingest it to have an allergic reaction. All the studies and changes people report about always talk about ingestion of the food.... they fail to stop and think about those with the problem of airborne. Even if I didn't have a child wit the allergy I would want to help lower the chances for anyone elses child from having a reaction. No kid should go through the trauma of an anaphylaxis shock reaction or witness it.

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By anny on Tue, 01-15-13, 16:08

I don't think schools or classrooms need to be free of allergens necessarily. Although safety measures must be in place if a child has an allergy (i.e. no sharing, hand washing, etc.). But having said that I believe that all classroom celebrations must be inclusive.

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By sgaffney on Tue, 01-15-13, 16:01

My son graduated last year, but we never asked the schools to do anything different for him. The teachers and staff were aware of his allergy. He also left his friends know. He was always careful. He asked his friends that had peanuts products at lunch to wash their hands when they finished eating. He never had a reaction in school, because we educated HIM on how to handle his allergy. It is not everyone else's responsibility. He is the one that needs to live with it. Our allergist said that this is the best way to handle the allergy.

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By phscott98 on Wed, 01-16-13, 16:22

Personal accountability is great. Its wonderful to hear your son did so well through school. I am so glad he was able to articulate those needs to his teachers and friends. But please take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of other children who cannot advocate for themselves, or express those concerns to a teacher or friend. I have a 9 year old son who is autistic and has a severe anaphylactic allergy to peanuts. He is not able to communicate the wonderful things your son was able to say to his friends or teachers. I have seen many reactions from people touching his skin and having a hand full of peanuts the day before cause welting on his body. I have watched him come very close to death during an anaphylactic reaction and told we were very lucky I responded so quickly.

Currently, the school system in Utah as a state has NO adopted policy or procedure in place to care for a child in the event of life-threatening food reactions. Why is this? We are now taking measures for gun control int he school to help protect our children. Yet it is statistically more likely a child will have an allergic reaction to food in the school system then there would ever be a shooting. It is a tragedy that those children have lost their lives. I'm am very sorry for that horrid event.

Now what are we doing as a society if we turn our backs to KNOWN allergens in food products, that can and have already killed children. Its the childs problem? How can a child defend themselves against this if they are unable to advocate for themselves and live in a constant state of fear.

Education for a child should be a safe environment for all. Federal protects that right. If the schools could make a better effort to allow this to happen, i.e. peanut free classrooms, providing education to the entire faculty, yearly training on how to identify food allergies, policies and procedures to provide protection, allergen trained food preparation staff, BE AWARE & HELP!

Lets work on saving lives as a society, not telling people its their own problem. Because the life of one is just as valuable as the life of twenty.

By momoftwins on Tue, 01-15-13, 16:27

That is wonderful that your child made it through school with no reactions. But that cannot be said for all children with severe food allergies. There are reports of children using these allergens as a means of bullying children with food allergies. I was very excited when my children's elementary school set up a nut free table, however, it is not monitored and there are children that attempt to sit there with pb&j's everyday. These children are put on display for others to know of their allergies. My children are both educated on how to react if they come in contact with an allergen, and the teaching staff is also aware. This awareness will help them once they start suffering, but why not do what is necessary to prevent it from happening in the first place. Although many parents of children without food allergies will not understand, not only does a child with food allergies have to constantly be aware of everything they are eating, but they must be alert as to what those around them are eating, as many of these children cannot come in contact with the allergen. Having a nut free school would not give children a false sense of security, but it could make them feel more normal and there would be less of a chance of them being bullied due to their allergies.

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By Seamist on Tue, 01-15-13, 15:21

It should not be an either or situation. Schools should be peanut-free, and children and teachers should always be prepared for an allergic reaction. Everyone should be trying to keep children safe from lifethreatening allergens, and also be educated that an allergen can still get through at times.

In addition, peanut-free should also be expanded to include other life threatening allergens, if there is a student at the school who has such an allergy. For example, my son is severely allergic to all tree nuts and soy, and I would want his school to do whatever they can to provide a safe environment for him while on school property. In addition they would need to have an epi-pen always nearby in case of accidental exposure.

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By phscott98 on Wed, 01-16-13, 16:30

I loved your post. It is a not an extreme one way or another. It should be all parties involved working together to create the best environment for a child to learn in a safe environment. We don't let loaded guns into the schools to sit in our children's lunch boxes. Why would we do the same in the event we knew it would harm a child so severely and cause death to them?

It is sad as a society we are not working toward the common good of everyone, especially in light of the evidence showing the dramatic rise in food allergies in the United States.

All of these type of life threatening allergies should be addressed in each case!

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