Eating alone at the nut-free table? - Peanut Allergy Information

Eating alone at the nut-free table?

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My PA/TA son is starting kindergarten in 2 weeks.

I've got the 504 and I feel like medically everything is in place that can be, despite the fact that I get the impression that I am considered a PITA parent. Whatever.

I recently realized that what concerns me the most is the possibility that my son will be set apart. I worry that some day it will be only him sitting at the nut-free table in the cafeteria. In our school the Kindergarteners sit with the 1st graders; the 2nd and 3rd graders sit together etc.

I picture this poor little kid sitting all alone at a big table, looking around at all the other kids laughing and talking.

I worry that he won't be invited to playdates and birthday parties. Actually a 'friend' who has grade-school children (without allergies) told me my son would "definitely" not be invited to certain things because of the nut allergies. And of course I worry about him being bullied later on - I'm assuming kindegarteners don't bully one another yet.

Has anyone had a child go through elementary school who can tell me how it is going to be?

By amorrow1987 on Apr 17, 2015

Thank you so much for that reply!! :) I appreciat it more than you could imagine, .

By 2crazyboys on Apr 16, 2015

My 5 year old pa son is just finishing kindergarten. His school is at least trying to take it seriously I think, but it is hard for people that don't have personal experience with it to really understand. I have found it amazing how often food is an issue, not just at lunch, but in the classroom also with all sorts of holiday parties and special activities. Before school started I did a 504 meeting with the teacher, principal, and school nurse. The teacher was worried about how to handle having to deal with his allergy (she didn't say so but I could tell). I made it clear that she could call me anytime, and she has been good about always calling and getting my approval before any event involving food. She has gone so far as to ask me what they should have for parties, and I happily suggest safe treats and always volunteer to bring something. I think an open line of communication with the teacher has been the most valuable thing.

School lunches are peanut free, but kids can still bring whatever they want from home. My son is okay in the presence of peanuts as long as he doesn't eat them, but we asked that he sit at a peanut free table because we were afraid of him sharing food, given his age. That has turned out to be kind of pointless, because he attends an after school program at the school where the kids bring their own snacks and there is no peanut free zone. If he reacted just being around peanuts that would be more of a problem, but we haven't had a problem with sharing food. We have always been very straightforward with him about his allergy, and have stressed to him over and over again the importance of not sharing food. Amazingly, he seems to have a pretty good understanding of that even at 5. He knows very well that he is allergic, and doesn't hesitate to tell people or to ask someone if something has peanuts in it.

After having him at the same daycare his whole life, it has definitely been scary trying to navigate a new, bigger environment. But, so far so good. I think it's important to remember that along with reading and math, part of his education is also learning to navigate the world with this allergy. So I think being straightforward with our kids and teaching them how to look out for themselves is the best thing we can do.

By amorrow1987 on Apr 15, 2015

I also have a 4 year old son with pa that will go into kindergarten next year. I have seen so many posts about schools not taking kid's allergies seriously and bullying. I am terrified. :/

By Sue-Ellen Osborne-Ramer on Aug 23, 2011

I have a 4 yr old that will be in kindergarten next year and I am worrying about the same things! Good luck :/

By smithdcrk on Jul 20, 2014

For early elementary school we were in a district where the school lunch was peanut & nut free. They offered PB&J but it was Smuckers Uncrustables in factory sealed containers so the kitchen and serving line remained peanut free.

There was a dedicated lunch table, complete with it's own color coded wash bucket and sponges. The Custodian had seen an anaphylactic reaction in a child outside school and had decided that would never happen on HIS watch.

Children were required to sit with their classes. However, non-PA/TNA children could sit at the table with their PA/TNA friends if they agreed to buy the school lunch. This created a atmosphere of inclusion. It was a TREAT to be at the "NO NUTS" table. As a result the table was always full of chatter and children.

When we moved to TX, the response was "haven't lost one yet!" But there were no safegaurds in place. Fortunately, with a 504/IEP the new school must try it "your way" for a specified time. When the plan comes up for renewal, you can negotiate. There was no policy in place for nut free table, so we compromised with a nut-free end.

Ironically this was the least inclusive environment. Yes, she was at the table with her classmates. But, the nut-free end was not the side the girls sat (they sat at the wall end). The "safe zone" was near the center aisle where the teacher could supervise her. The school lunches served peanut products and the district made us sign something saying we understood the school could not guarantee her safety if she ate the school lunch. No Problem! We will bring.

My girlie girl landed soundly in "boy land." One or two mothers told me they were informed by their sons that lunches needed to change! They sat next to K and they had to protect her from PB&J. However, kids are kids and there were several days each week that she sat at the corner with no one across, and no one next to her. In the safe zone at the edge of the group, our extrovert withdrew.

In third grade we adapted the plan so she could sit among the girls, but no one next to her or across could have peanuts or nuts. If everyone had PB&J she was allowed to sit at another table without having to cash in any of her "Good Behavior" points. But the damage was done. She was the high maintenance one, there were few children willing to give up there PB&J. Not an extrovert anymore.

In sixth grade that changed. She found new friends from other elementary schools that not only gave up their PB&J to be with her, but became her staunchest supporters and advocates. While she is still considered shy or closed in new situations, her self confidence blossomed and she treasured those that sat with her.

What was the difference? We have always had great school nurses. In fact at the second elementary school the school nurse used to come sit with her because few youngsters wanted to miss a chance to eat with the beloved nurse. A lot has to do with the admin's attitude. Is an allergy safe zone a burden or a calling? The first school made it a calling. Educate your friends, and those that step up gather together. Kids can have PB&J but in specific zones. They way we introduced it at the new elementary school with the imposed 504 safe zone put her outside her peers. She was the exception, she was different, she was excluded. In middle school, it was her friends that implemented the safe zone - a grass roots, peer initiated operation. Do some come with PB&J? Yes, but I understand a merry do-si-do insures everyone settled and included. No one feels edged out.

Moving into HS this year. Since MS 504 update she has been "licensed to carry" not just her complete emergency kit, but her cell phone everywhere. A new change for HS: she switched to the smaller AUVI-Q in case a parent or trained educator is not present for a reaction. With the increased distances for cross country, she also carries that and her phone in a small pouch originally designed for "Goo packs" and ipods. It blends in so well under her shirt that her coach did not know she was "carrying." The new coach also thinks of keeping her safe as a calling and is known for her teams' positive attitudes and mentoring.

By cass12404 on Sep 12, 2011

My PA daughter sits at a peanut free table and I was worried about her being all alone in kindergarten as well. Her school lets her pick 2 friends every day to sit with her at the table. Since her school does not serve peanut butter she has to pick children who are buying lunch from the school (not those bringing lunch from home). This makes her happy because she is not alone. She is in first grade now and she still gets to pick her friends each day. In kindergarten she was bullied by another kindergartener for her allergy. A child told her she was going to put peanut butter in her bookbag/lunchbox. She came home crying and was scared for the rest of the year over this. So yes kindergarteners do bully each other.

By robyn on Sep 12, 2011

My son is in 1st grade and was all alone at the peanut free table on the 1st day of school. :( Once I pointed it out to the teacher, she immediately corrected it by allowing a friend to sit with him the next day.

I don't think your son will definitely not be invited to things because of his allergy. A lot of it has to do with personality. I was very shy as a kid and left out of stuff because of that. My son (w/ PA) was invited to more bday parties last year than his best friend (non-PA) because my son is more outgoing.

I totally understand where you are coming from, though, because I've had the same fear but so far I've not had that issue at all.

By TracyC on Sep 17, 2011

Thanks Robin and Cass.

Cass - That is disturbing to hear your daughter was bullied in kindergarten. Do you mind me asking what the school did about it, if anything?

Robyn - I'm so sorry for your little guy, sitting all alone that first day :(

To update, the paraprofessional (what the teachers' aids are called here in MA) is in the cafeteria with the kids for lunch. During orientation I asked her/told her my concern and she said a child would never end up sitting alone - that it would never happen.

I believe the para has been selecting a child to sit with my son at the table each day. K and 1st sit together and there are about 5 kids total at the table (I think - trying to get info out of my kindergartner is difficult!)

So far I have been very happy with our school. The teacher is very willing to accommodate our allergy, the other parents I spoke with were very understanding (one even said to me my son doesn't like PB so he can always sit with your son at lunch) and the cafeteria person spoke to me for a 1/2 hour -showed me labels, the RN put everything I wanted on the 504 etc.

We are really lucky here in MA - many of the schools are very progressive in dealing with LTAs and have strong policies in place. I know that the policies won't always be followed, but I feel pretty confident they will keep my son safe. Although I did want to add that I did request a 504, did not let up, spoke with everyone I could and let myself be very known. And I will be be accompanying him on all field trips.

By Freddy on Oct 28, 2011

My son is in first grade. On the first day of school in Kindergarten, he sat alone because the lunch staff worried about his allergy. Since then, he sits at a peanut free table and anyone who is not eating pb is welcome to sit at his table. He does not ever eat alone. We did have an issue with exposure this year, however. He became friends with a child who eats pb everyday and he was being exposed by the child touching his face at recess after lunch. I spoke with the staff, and now the kids who eat pb are wiped down/ or wash their hands after they eat. It has been working very well.

Dasha, I don't see in anybody's comments here anything about peanut free policies at their schools. This discussion is about keeping the pn allergic kids safe in a school where there is pn in the cafeteria. A pn/tn free policy is up to the individual school. My son's school serves pn butter in the cafeteria every day. I realize that pn butter is a very economical, picky eater friendly shelf stable option. In my son's case, he was recently hospitalized over peanut exposure, which is why the new wipe down/ hand washing policy is in place. As extreme as it seems, it is the only way he can be safe at school, and every child has a right to be safe in school.

By Winchesterrk on Sep 3, 2013

I understand where you are coming from but imagine if it was your child's life that is at risk! I think the safety of a child is a little more important than your child having to have PB!

By Dasha1128 on Oct 14, 2011

I am sorry that young children are bullied for peanut allergies. Sadly, it is another thing on the list of things children are being picked on for. However, as the parent of a child who only eats PB (and believe me I've tried adding variety) I resent the fact that one child's medical issues dictate the policy of an entire school. Doesn't my child also have rights to eat what they want?

By Nutsaboutnuts on Aug 10, 2012

I have just heard about turning the tables (so to speak) and instead of having the allergy kids ostracized, have a special table for the kids who bring in peanut/tree nut products for lunch. Genius!!

By coldfusion1205 on Sep 4, 2012

Our PA son was in Kindergarten last year and he sat at a peanut free table with one other PA child. I asked for a 504 plan and was told that a peanut allergy alone does not qualify. My son's epi-pens were stored in the Nurses office and the school serves PB as a lunch choice. Our K program was all day every other day and each one of those days I worried. I worked with the other moms planing the class partys and attended all partys. This year my husband and I decided to try and on-line school so we know our son is safe and he loves it.

To Dasha: I understand that PB is a favorite food for so many kids. I love PB and ate it often until my son became allergic. My son had one bite of PB at the age of 2 and went into anaphylaxis and had to be rushed to the ER. I know PB is a good food for many but it is a poison for our kids and any exposure can kill them. Ask yourself this would you want your kids around anything that could kill them?

By Joann on Sep 15, 2012

my district also has an elementary school that has decided to make a peanut table vs a peanut free table. If a child chooses to bring in pb&j they sit at a peanut table. Totally fair after all that child has a choice the child with the allergy does not. Dasha are you opposed now to YOUR child being subjected to sit at a special table or are you ok with that? Hopefully he or she will be able to find someone kind enough to sit with her, or maybe she/he will have to sit alone. I bet that if your child had to sit alone for a few days she might find some other foods to eat besides peanut butter. You do realize most kids with a peanut allergy could die if they ingested peanuts and were not immediately treated. There are alternatives to Peanut butter, sun butter is very similar.

By Joann on Sep 15, 2012

Also to Dasha my child's 2nd grade class has 10 children out of 60 with nut allergies. So we are not talking one child but even if we were why should that child sit alone simply because he has a food allergy ?

By Nutsaboutnuts on Sep 15, 2012

To Dasha and to other parents with non- allergic kids.... Yes, all children have rights, but when the issue is about safety then I believe that must take precedence. These allergies are LIFE threatening. Providing a lunch other than PBJ for your child may be a nuisance at first, but at least it isn't life threatening to your child. We must find other foods that are suitable (both my boys Are picky eaters) in order to provide a SAFE environment for all children at school. This can provide you with a wonderful teaching moment with your kids and to better educate them about food allergies and what can happen to a child if pn/tn are ingested. What a wonderful thing to teach your child empathy and understanding of kids who suffer from these allergies. Good luck!

By tomanyfoodalergies on Sep 20, 2013

I am not sure if this the right place but my daughter doesn't have to eat alone but they have snack time in class and if a child brings something that has nuts or may contain them they have to put them back and cant eat them. my daughter only has a reaction if she eats them. I already told the school and her teacher that but the kids that cant their snack is giving her the cold shoulder and saying its her fault that they cant have their snack. how do I get the school to understand that having something with nuts or may contain them wont hurt her. please help.

By cmarie234 on Sep 22, 2013

Last year, when my PA daughter started kindergarten, her allergist at Johns Hopkins said that at her age she did not have to have a nut free table. The social isolation was more of a risk now (the allergist also has a food allergy child). At this age, kids usually, and should, understand their allergy and know that they cannot eat or touch other kids' foods. And the other kids in her class were educated to know that they cannot touch her food. However, my daughter was not comfortable with that because she went to a peanut-free preschool and I had so far not aloud her to sit next to anyone eating PB. So she had an assigned seat at the end of one of the tables with no one aloud to sit next to her or across from her who had peanut anything. However, at the end of the year I found out that she spent some lunches eating alone, even though I was assured by the school nurse that this would never happen. It broke my heart, of course.

This year she takes a placemat with her everyday to eat off of. She is more comfortable now and does not have an assigned seat.

My problem is that the school does not want to comply with what our allergist did put in my daughter's allergy plan: that each student either wash their hands or use a wipe after eating lunch. During kindergarten, they reluctantly complied with me providing wipes and them ASKING students to use a wipe if they had PB. This year when I showed up with the wipes I got eye rolling and a real fight from the nurse's office. Luckily, the principle has a grandchild with a food allergy and was OK with doing as we did last year. I am now on a mission to make it a county regulation that students must wash their hands or use a wipe (a baby wipe, no antibacterial or harsh chemicals needed) after eating lunch or snack. Freddy - I hope you don't mind if i use your exposure incident as an example of what I am concerned about.

My daughter was bullied in kindergarten. One of her "bffs" had PB for lunch but did not wipe her hands. My daughter told her she could not play with her or touch her until she had done so, which is a very appropriate thing for my daughter to say. Her "bff" responded by smacking my daughter on the chest open handed. When I told the school they said they could do nothing because the "bff" denied it. Go figure!

Dasha - my daughter is a very picky eater as well, oral sensory processing issues, so I know what it's like to deal with that issue too. If your school has gone nut-free, I have found Sun Butter to be a close substitute for PB. However, I am sorry you have resentful feelings. It might be more helpful to your child to teach them about being a good friend and responsible member of the community. For example, being respectful of those with life-threatening food allergies, keeping his food to himself, and cleaning up after eating. Your child will absorb and then reflect your feelings, and I'm sure you don't want him to become a food allergy bully.

By Positive allergies on Jul 18, 2014

I'm so confused..."a peanut free table" seems to be backwards. At our school, there is a friendship room. Any child that brings an item that is not safe...eats there. This means that the consequence for not bringing safe foods falls to the offender and their family and not the child who has the allergy. It also keeps the offending foods in another part of the school. Can u all suggest this? It is NOT perfect but works out great socially. The children police themselves and remind each other when they must go to the other room. If not, an adult is there to help.

By smithdcrk on Jun 18, 2015

You are right, once the school accepts the ethics behind providing a physically safe environment, the next step is to develop a culture of acceptance for an emotionally nurturing environment.

In our first school (K/1), there was a supportive culture embedded withing the safety protocols. Fundamental was the district's stance that if the food service vendors could not guarantee a peanut and tree nut free production line, they would not be doing business there. That allowed the peanut and nut free table to be more inclusive: a documented nut allergy OR choose to eat the school's lunch (minus the uncrustables option!). Parents didn't have to think about what to pack, because the school offered safe alternatives. Added bonus, my daughter had the opportunity to enjoy a school lunch. She could have the tater tots and chicken fingers or could go for the bagel & turkey sandwich with carrot sticks if they served something less popular.

At the new school, we came in with a 504 in August that outlined her health and safety requirements - hence the nut free "corner" of the class table. The school culture was different and the isolation began. She didn't complain either, it came out as an aside usually. The school nurse and the nicer teachers tried to help by sitting with her. In younger grades that will bring them in to your side of the table! But once they moved on so did the classmates. Allergic children who did not have a 504 or restrictions were better accepted by their peers. Even after we relaxed the "nut-free corner" and allowed her to each with the girls as long as there wasn't a PBJ sandwich next to her, it improved slightly. But PBJ seem to win over friendship.

Fast forward to MS and a new school culture - sit where you want, not by class at lunch, and teachers that checked with me about safe treats to share. She found new friends, thanks to Science Olympiad, boys and girls that gave up their PB&J to find other lunches that kept them next to my daughter. Not surprising, her current crowd comes from the other feeder schools. These friends have stayed with her to HS. She is on a sports team where the coach enforces "We are One." If eating peanut products in an enclosed area mean they have to exclude her, then they leave the peanuts in the backpack.

It is a journey. One thing that has come from it, is my daughter's decision to begin reaching out to young children with similar situations because of their allergies. She has become introverted over the years, but this tells us she is fighting back!

By jennlee_f@yahoo.com on Mar 3, 2015

The problem for us is that we moved to this school at the beginning of the year so he's coming in new. We've had kids over for playdates and I've talked to their parents. Everyone says that it's sad and then doesn't do anything about it. Your right, we can't force a child to sit with him but the environment can be one where it's encouraged.

I think the issue is going to be asking that the school implement a policy where the kids are encouraged to participate fully with all their classmates. They have reward tickets for good school citizenship and I think something along those lines would be appropriate. You get rewarded for doing the right thing.

His class last year had one of the three class tables designated as peanut free. By necessity, the kids with safe lunches were sitting there because that's where the free seats were. They all became fast friends and to your point about friendships, they were his staunchest supporters.

My problem is the schools seemingly acceptance of isolating the individual. I just cringe every time they say he doesn't mind eating alone. Kids don't tell the truth about how their feeling. How many kids squirm and wiggle when they have to go to the bathroom and tell you they don't have to go? Then there is the mad dash to the bathroom because they did have to go!

They wouldn't think twice about putting a person with a wheel chair at their own table alone and in my opinion this is along those same lines. They recently had to talk with one of the lunch room attendants because they yelled at a child and then put her at a table by herself. The parent complained and administration commented was that she shouldn't be disciplined in that manner. I agree and just want to ask that as educators, they work to make an inclusive environment and not one where we wall off the individual.

I just have to say I'm thankful for forums like these. I feel alone and then can come read and feel as if there are people in my corner. I don't know what I'd do without the allergy community.

By smithdcrk on Mar 2, 2015

My heart goes out to you and your son. Having lived through the isolation our daughter faced, we understand how you must feel. One of the things we have learned is that true friends support and advocate for you. When my daughter finally found a circle of friends that had her back (and her left, and her right and her across the table), this issued dissolved. The students' willingness to join a child that is isolated comes from the attitude of the educators and the parents. Is it a calling or and obligation? Each of our children have enjoyed schools that provided an atmosphere of support and then had to endure a more divisive environment. For us, the environment became positive when my daughter found good friends. Same school. Same District. Same Policies. Better friendships.

Often we look to the school to fix it, and they do have some responsibility to provide a safe environment, but they cannot force a child to sit at the nut-free table. That has to come from the heart. The child, supported by her/his parents must decide to avoid the allergenic food.

Look to your child's playmates. Who does he speak of fondly? Which mothers have been kindest to you and your child? Cultivate those relationships. Friendship goes both ways. My daughter reciprocates, she supports her friends in all they do and she advocates for them. She is their defender and they are hers.

By jennlee_f@yahoo.com on Mar 2, 2015

I'm about to go into a school meeting tomorrow to discuss this topic. My son ate at a peanut free table in Kindergarten and was often by himself. His IA said he liked it that way. I was furious. No, my child is shy and will not make waves. In first grade, one of the three classroom tables was designated as peanut free. The kids sat there who had safe lunches and a couple months in to school had the kids all self policing in order to keep him safe. Anyone who walked up to the table was inspected (by the kids) before they sat down. Fast forward to second grade and a move to a different school and we're back to being isolated. I went to lunch last week and watched as he asked someone to come sit with him and the boy said no. His face crumbled and then he caught himself and played brave. My heart broke. No child should be faced with this much pressure to be included in an activity that it is a large part of school and one where kids usually look forward. This will be attempt number three to figure out a way to manage the nut free table so that it's he's included in regular activity. Crossing my fingers.

By mom1995 on Jun 18, 2015

A 504 that excludes your son from any activity is a violation of the 504 Act. We required that there was a safe zone at the table with everyone else. Our DD had a buffer zone of two people on each side of her and three accross from her. Her spot at the table was whipped down as she came in for lunch. It was a reward for a different student everyday to get to do it. They tried to exclude and when she came home upset and feeling isolated we stopped it.

Good luck. Keep asking here there are tons of great parents with great advise and views.

By PolarBadger on Jun 21, 2015

it seems over the years more and more kids are getting peanut allergy's. The schools and businesses just do not want to change things so accommodate kids that are allergic to peanuts. The school will surely have more than 1 kid allergic to peanuts, that may be how he/she may make new friends.

By ldommel on Jun 22, 2015

My daughter has to sit at a peanut free table at school but the school lets her pick one person a day to eat with her. She loves it because she can eat most of the food at school but has her own trashcan by the table. It is nothing to worry about, I think sometimes we overreact because its our child. I made it into a fun game and try to guess who she sat with at school for that day.

By Tracer5497 on Jun 27, 2015

Hi everyone! I have missed being on this site. I relied heavily on it when my little girl was the only pa child in Kindergarten many years ago. She is 19 now and we still learn ways to navigate her allergy. She went away to college this past year and those stressful kindergarten feelings came back! It's hard now that she is an adult to trust she is managing her allergy. Back when she was little, I too didn't want to be the "pita" mom, so I worked, volunteered, donated (pa free snacks and the epi-pen trainers) and whatever I could to work with our school staff to assure her safety. Her teachers and classmates were great. They showed love and were protective of her. And the truth is, there are other children with similar or worse issues, so to teach others to be compassionate and considerate is always a good thing regardless of the reason. I never begrudged other kids their pbj (my other children liked it too) but they washed up after lunch as they should anyway. I wish everyone luck-All these posts are so interesting especially the vast experiences we have all had!