Chicago area article


I am surprised no one has posted this yet. Here is the link for another article on peanuts in schools. [url=""][/url]

------------------ Mary Kay

On Nov 7, 2003


dont know if I posted this link correctly but I raised it as well. Think I corrected link!

[This message has been edited by momma2boys (edited November 07, 2003).]

On Nov 7, 2003

Here's the text of the article.

[i]Jeannie/Tony - I'm so glad to hear that Stefan was able to return to school.[/i] [img][/img]

--------------- One mother's crusade By Beth Sneller Daily Herald Staff Writer

Jeannie Czech is a virtual encyclopedia on peanut and tree nut allergies.

The Naperville woman can cite statistics, symptoms, expert opinions and alternative food options off the top of her head.

You might say she's become consumed with her research. But she says she can never know too much.

Her son, 6-year-old Stefan, has a life-threatening peanut allergy. If he even touches one of the legumes, there's a chance he could die.

Czech and her husband, Tony, discovered their son's condition when Stefan was 2 and ate six peanut butter crackers. Within minutes, he broke into hives and was disoriented.

"It was pure panic," Czech recalls.

An allergist told the family Stefan would go into anaphylactic shock -- his throat would swell and his body would begin shutting down -- if he swallowed a peanut or peanut product. He was also allergic to tree nuts, but exposure to those nuts probably wouldn't kill him.

From then on, the Czechs became two of the thousands of parents who worry daily that an unintended close encounter with a Snickers bar could prove deadly.

So far, it hasn't been difficult to control their son's exposure to peanuts.

His preschool and kindergarten classes have made sure parents don't bring in snacks with peanuts, and since he's only been in school for half the day, Stefan has always gone home for lunch.

But this year he started first grade at May Watts Elementary School in Naperville, which means he eats lunch in an environment saturated with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Over the past few months, the Czechs have entered the complicated, delicate dance of working with school officials to maintain their child's safety, while still respecting others' rights to eat what they wish.

They even kept Stefan home the first 20 days of school, because they couldn't work out a compromise with school officials a week before school started.

Czech realizes some people might think she's taking her concern to the extreme, but she maintains that the danger is very real to many families.

"I'm fighting for him because anyone else would if they were in my shoes," Czech says.

She fears he's in danger even if parents ensure classroom snacks are peanut-free, even if lunchroom workers clean Stefan's table every day to wipe off all traces of peanut residue and even if lunch-table companions stick to peanut-free foods.

If a child who eats peanut butter forgets to wash his hands after lunch, she says, he inadvertently could transfer that peanut butter to the monkey bars where Stefan could come in contact with it.

There are dangers everywhere, Czech says.

When it comes to school, especially, she and other parents say it's hard to find the balance between turning their youngsters into "the child in the bubble" and keeping them safe.

Progress at a cost

Twenty years ago, schools didn't have to be nearly as concerned about allergic children.

Widespread peanut allergies are relatively new, says Dr. Sami Bahna, professor of pediatrics and medicine and chief of the allergy and immunology section at Louisiana State University Medical School.

Opinions vary, but Bahna thinks it's because today's children live in a cleaner environment and receive more immunizations and antibiotics than ever before. As a result, there is less demand on the immune system to fight infections.

"Our richness in the United States protects us from infections," Bahna says, "but the trade-off is that we're more likely to develop allergies, because the immune system redirects its function toward hypersensitivity reactions to things in the environment, including foods."

Another explanation is that we simply eat many more peanuts than we used to, says Dr. Jaclyn Pongracic, acting division head of allergy at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

"Over the last generations, peanuts have become a more well-established source of nutrition," she says.

Greater consumption of peanuts in early childhood seems to indicate a greater likelihood of intolerance, she says.

So what's the solution? Should we prohibit children from eating peanuts until they're 10? Should we advise new mothers not to eat peanuts until they stop nursing?

The problem, Pongracic says, is that nobody knows exactly when it's safe to eat peanuts or other highly allergic foods.

"There must be some critical point where oral tolerance to foods occurs," she says. "Someday we'll probably be able to provide that kind of advice. But there just isn't enough research out there yet."

So allergists preach avoidance and they try various forms of immunotherapy to reduce risks of anaphylactic shock.

They give children epinephrine, or E-Pens, to carry with them, so if they do go into anaphylactic shock, a quick shot might give them a better chance at survival.

And families teach their children that it's OK to be "different" at school.

No nuts allowed

A few schools across the country have opted to completely ban peanuts from their buildings.

Longfellow Elementary School in Portland, Maine, for example, has been "peanut-free" for three years.

The school began confronting the issue four years ago, Principal Dawn Carrigan says, when a severely peanut-allergic child began attending classes.

Because children at Longfellow ate lunch in their rooms, a peanut-free cafeteria wasn't an option. So Carrigan and the school nurse designated several rooms as peanut-free zones.

That became more of a problem the next year, when there were eight peanut-allergic children at Longfellow -- some of whom could go into anaphylactic shock just by smelling peanuts.

Thus, the decision to go completely peanut-free.

"The idea was that we would modify the practice, depending on the individual needs of the children we had any given year," Carrigan says.

Longfellow used the peanut ban as a learning experience for children, explaining it as an opportunity to support others in the community with special needs.

The school worked with nutritionists to develop a peanut-free cookbook full of ideas for safe-lunch options. It even offered to provide milk if parents wanted to send cereal to school with their children, so they could eat peanut butter sandwiches at breakfast instead.

Still, the transition wasn't easy, Carrigan says.

"We probably have a number of families who still feel today that their child's access to peanuts has been limited."

Peanut solutions

Some educators and doctors say a peanut-free school is not the answer to keeping a child safe during the day.

For one thing, it could create a false sense of security, Pongracic says.

"The exposure can occur anywhere," she says. "I don't know how much policing one can do to make sure there's not an exposure."

Instead, other school districts implement a variety of safety precautions, including providing wipes at the end of each table for peanut-eating children and removing peanuts from the school lunch menu.

At May Watts, officials have started requiring children eating peanuts at lunch to wash their hands before they head to recess. Stefan eats at a peanut-free table at lunch, and parents in his class refrain from sending in snacks with peanuts.

Despite the rallying cry for peanut-free schools from the Czechs and a handful of others, officials in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 have determined that the mandatory hand washing is sufficient.

"Everyone wants to do the right thing and make sure they're addressing the issue," says Judy Hackett, district director of support services. "But after researching the issue and talking to other school districts, we haven't found a peanut-free school to be the most successful way to support a student's needs."

Hackett, too, worries that a peanut-free environment would give allergic children the impression they are invincible. She feels Stefan is safest when his guard is up.

And, in case Stefan accidentally does swallow peanuts, staff members can inject him with his E-Pen that's locked in the school office.