Why do kids have to eat peanut butter at school? This is such a controversial subject in the food allergy world, though I can't for the life of me figure out why it's so heated. I've read the reactions to food allergy parents who have given their opinions in the past. I know what peanut butter advocates think. I know that on the extreme side of this argument, peanut advocates think that severely food allergic children should not even be allowed in school--that they should be homeschooled. In fact, I've heard this opinion so many times that this type of verbiage no longer fazes me.
How many times have I heard a parent say, "But she'll only eat peanut butter for lunch!" I just can't figure this out. Because if my kid looked at me and told me he would only eat one thing for lunch, and that one thing was something that could potentially kill another student, I'd tell him no way. Forget that, if my kid told me he would eat only one thing for lunch, period, I would tell him no, that's not acceptable.
I just can't wrap my head around parents who insist that peanut butter sandwiches are the end all. Do their kids eat these for breakfast and dinner too? Do they have a peanut butter sandwich waiting for them when they get home for snack?
Okay okay, I get it, I do. People have rights. They want to eat peanuts and they should eat peanuts. Just not at school. There are personal rights and then there's social responsibility. What are we teaching our children if we're only teaching them one side of the coin?
I mean, if my son was playing in the park with friends, found a long sharp stick and proceeded to wave it around recklessly at the other kids, I would tell him to put it down. Sure, he has the right to play with sticks, just not around other kids. Hey, it's unlikely that he'll poke someone's eye out, but it's possible. He could also unnecessarily scratch or puncture someone. Wouldn't we rather avoid the risk altogether and tell the boy to put the stick down? Or would we all sit around on the edge of our seats waiting to see what would happen? If your child was the one with the stick pointed at her, would you just sit around and do nothing so as not to offend the rights of the stick-brandishing child or his parents?
Do we share the responsibility of helping to keep our kids safe? Every day, my kids go to school and I pray that I don't get a phone call from the school office. When I see the number flashing on my phone, I'm immediately filled with dread. I'm hoping the caller is not about to describe an allergic reaction, and that I won't need to rush myself over to the pediatric ER to meet my child.
So why the peanut butter? Of course, 99.9% of the time, peanut butter sandwiches in the school cafeteria aren't hurting anyone. It's the less than one percent of the time, the time that after eating a peanut butter sandwich, a classmate accidentally spits into the mouth of a peanut-allergic child during a conversation they are having in line about to leave the cafeteria.
Yep, it happened to my kid, yesterday at school.
Within moments, my son developed a stomach ache, told the principal, and was whisked away to the office. While I was on the phone with the principal (thank God I answered my cell!), my son reported trouble breathing, so I told him he needed the epinephrine injection, which my son administered himself. I told the principal that he needed to go directly to the ER, and I would meet him there.
My 9-year-old son is officially a rock star. He recognized his symptoms, got help, related his symptoms clearly, and administered the Auvi-Q auto-injector successfully and calmly. He rode an ambulance alone to the ER, readied himself for a four hour stay, and worried that he didn't have his books to do his homework.
Why can't we just say that there are no nuts allowed in school? Because we know people won't follow the rules? Because we know people won't like it? Because we're worried about people's right to eat what they want for lunch?
All schools have drop-off and pick-up procedures which are not to everyone's liking, and which are probably going to be challenged by a few parents, but we still have them. We have them because we know it's the right thing to do, and because we know if we didn't, we'd have a lot more accidents. If we could avoid just one accident with rules about how to pick up our children from school, would that help to justify their existence? Do we even feel the need to quantify how safe we could be with the implementation of a particular rule?
How many food allergy accidents have to happen before we change our food policies at school?
I don't think most people mean to put food allergic children at higher risk of reaction at school; I just think they don't understand. They haven't had to respond to an emergency situation--adrenaline pumping, hands shaking. They haven't had to live through the ups and downs of managing food allergies on a daily basis, spend literally thousands of dollars every year on medications, ER visits, and specialty foods...in a constant state of worry.
I've always known that food allergy education is a slow evolution. One step forward, two steps back. We had our two steps back yesterday, I'm looking forward to that step forward.