The other day, my son was complaining about the lunch menu at the middle school. Being Lent, he doesn’t eat meat on Fridays, and he feels there are no good non-meat choices for lunch.
One Friday, he had macaroni and cheese, which he liked. On another, he had cheese-bread dunkers, which he doesn’t really like. Last week, there didn’t seem to be any non-meat choices.
Of course, he could always go to the ala-carte bar and make up his own non-meat lunch, but this didn’t seem to interest him either. So, I suggest peanut butter and jelly for lunch, to which he says “I can’t have peanut butter in school,” something I had forgotten about.
A student at his school has a very severe peanut and tree nut allergy, one that could very easily result in death if put in the position of having to touch or even smell them. So, in an effort to keep this student safe, the school is peanut-free.
During my son’s time in the school district, K5-6th grade, we have gotten used to this and accept that this is a very serious allergy. We are fine with making these small changes, or "sacrifices," if you will.
However, there are others who are not as accepting and willing to make changes. Or even educate themselves on the seriousness of food allergies.
Later that day, a news report described an uproar in a central Florida school district about this same issue. A 6-year-old girl in Edgewater Elementary School has a life-threatening peanut allergy, and a group of her classmates’ parents are asking she withdraw from school. They say that if she has that serious of an allergy, perhaps she shouldn’t be in public places at all.
From what I could gather, each of the teachers would take their class first thing in the morning to the bathroom and have each child wash their hands and face and rinse out their mouths (to be sure there was no peanut remnants left over, I suppose). This took quite a bit of time out of their day, as you can imagine. Time that, these parents say, could be better used for teaching their kids.
This sure did spark discussion, both from the newscasters and from the public calling and writing into the station. While one side of the coin looks at complete tolerance and changing the eating habits and ways of those around the child, the other side is against making changes and would rather the child home-school or take some other alternative to public education. Two extremes that are hotly-debated in the arena of food allergies in school.
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention, between 4 and 8 percent of children, and 2 percent of adults, are afflicted with some kind of food allergy. Some are more severe than others, but still deserve consideration. How do we as a society look at and accommodate those who are afflicted? Or do we even bother?
Tough questions to answer, but they deserve conversation.