Jul 29, 2014

Why School Peanut Bans Keep Changing

Reports of severe allergic reactions have spiked, but that doesn’t mean your kid’s PB&J’s are banned.

Why School Peanut Bans Keep Changing
In schools across the country, peanut butter, once as innocuous as grape jelly, has morphed into the contraband at the center of a debate between parents, educators and medical professionals. Schools put up hard bans, then take them down, and parents are left wondering why a sandwich that was treated as a WMD last year is permissible again this year. Here are 4 things to keep in mind as your school’s policies change.

1. Peanut allergies are increasing, as are reports of related deaths. Reports of peanut-related fatalities, like the death of 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi of Sacramento last month,  are on the riseSo are reports of peanut allergies

Giorgi's case points to the limits of parent and student preparation: She was well aware of her allergy and prepared for action. After she took a single bite of a Rice Krispies treat made with peanut butter, she spit it out. Then she was given Benadryl. Later, when the reaction grew more severe, three EpiPens were administered. But she still succumbed.

2. Parents' increasing focus on peanut allergies may explain part of the spike in reports. Joel Stein wrote the definitive yuppie backlash piece on this in the LA Times in 2009, explaining that “a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock, and all their teachers should be warned, handed EpiPens and given a really expensive gift at Christmas. But ... genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007. And genes certainly don't cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies, when 4% do. Yuppiedom does.”

Inevitably, as with lockdown procedures, your school officials may be responding to the demands from parents as much as anything. If you’re a parent, it’s good to keep that in mind and keep a level head.

3. School peanut policies vary widely, and schools often change their policies. Giorgi’s parents, who shared their stor y  “to convince skeptical parents that food allergies in children is very real,” would like to see every school follow suit. But peanut products are still served in many school cafeterias, and there is no national policy regarding their presence on campuses. Some schools already prohibit home-baked goodies and only allow prepackaged foods with ‘peanut-free’ labels. In some states, a peanut ban is up to individual school officials. More often, entire districts have prohibited peanuts in their school kitchens.

Also, a number of schools have opted for "peanut-free"lunch tables as opposed to an outright ban. But that leads us to...

4. Children with food allergies often get bullied and ostracized at school. According to a study released last year, “almost half of children who have food allergies have been bullied -- sometimes by having food thrown at them.” In schools with separate lunchroom tables for allergic students, there are common reports from children of feeling isolated and even shunned from the general school population.

When you consider that school administrators are torn between demands to fight bullying and to navigate allergy issues, you begin to see how the cases of just a few kids—allergic, bullied, or both—can turn a school policy.

What do you think is the solution to the peanut problem? Let us know in the comments or a blog post.

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