Friday, April 17, 2009

Allergies and Schools

It's not that I'm unsympathetic to kids who have allergies, but at some point one kid's allergy cannot impact an entire class or school:

Kindergarten students at H. Clarke Powers Elementary School in Loomis are required to wash their hands with an anti-microbial soap throughout the day to help prevent a fellow classmate from having an allergic reaction. But some students have developed dry, cracked hands – a few have reportedly suffered sores – from what their parents describe as an obsessive practice that detracts from their already-limited class time...

Schools are required by law to make accommodations for children with disabilities or medical needs. Severe food allergies are considered a medical need, said Bonnie Branstrom, a nutrition education consultant for the state Department of Education.

A plan was devised and other parents were sent letters alerting them to the student's severe food allergies and the need to keep the kindergarten classroom a "peanut free, corn free, egg free zone," the document states. Parents also were asked to not pack certain foods in their children's lunches.
It is absolutely not the school's place to tell me what I can and cannot pack in my child's lunch. Who's going to monitor to make sure I don't pack a tortilla chip? Who's responsible if a tortilla chip gets near the allergic student?

Schools can make reasonable accommodations for students with medical needs. If your child's medical needs are extreme--and life-threatening allergies constitute extreme, in my book--then perhaps an alternative to the neighborhood school would be the appropriate placement.


teachergirl said...

I have a kindergarten student who is highly allergic to most of the common food allergens. We wash hands when they arrive in the morning, before lunch, and after recess, and have had several children complaining of dry skin. We just give them lotion. Our school is also "peanut free" - the cafeteria no longer serves pb&j sandwiches, and students are not supposed to bring peanut products.

The biggest impact, however, has been in classroom instruction. Many of our science lessons involve exploring nature - like pinecones, seashells, leaves and sticks, etc. We haven't done any of that this year because of allergy boy. While parties are not an academic necessity, they are a part of elementary education. We haven't had a one this year because of the food issue. Parents have asked to bring in treats to celebrate their child's birthday, and we have had to say no. One child brought candy to pass out at valentine's, and we had to remove the candy from the valentines. Since no food is allowed in the classroom, that means we as teachers are not allowed to eat in our classroom. Since we don't have a teacher's lounge (that's another issue altogether), we have to impose on other teachers.

I agree that parents of such children should look into other educational options, especially when the child has multiple food allergies. Really, the parent may be putting their child at unnecessary risk by sending them to the neighborhood school. Yes, accommodations should be made, but not at the expense of all the other children.

PeggyU said...

I think it would be much easier for a parent to control the child's environment than for the school to do it. Many states (maybe all of them) now offer online public school programs, and it might be less expensive and disruptive to approach it that way. I realize not all parents can stay home with their children during the day to do this. But it might be possible to get a home health care assistant to be present during those hours. Gee, maybe there's a market for a service like this!

I am wondering how highly allergic people function in a work environment where these precautions would not be taken. Do they undergo allergy shots as children so that by the time they reach adulthood the problem has resolved itself?

Darren said...

I wonder how the kid goes to a baseball game, goes to the zoo, or even walks down the street. How many restaurants has this child ever been in?

Ellen K said...

I also wonder how many parents use this as a way to control the behaviors of others. I have had kids who were vegans' parents ask that pizza for art club pizza parties be just vegan.You want to try to figure out how many vegan pizza places there are in the suburban north Dallas area? As for telling other parents not to pack specific foods, what if a kid is allergic to everything but berries? So all of the other kids are similarly nutritionally denied access to protein and carbs because of ONE STUDENT? What happened to doing the best for the majority of kids? And what is really interesting is that many Hispanic students enjoy bringing food from home that includes corn based products. So now isn't it racially divisive to say they cannot bring food from home? Or is this just another government power grab to make sure that all kids just get to eat what the government says all the time? While I sympathize with parents whose children have severe allergies, it's really pretty selfish of them to impose their needs on the lives of everyone around them.

maxutils said...

Thank you, Darren. I have tremendous empathy for anyone born with a severe food allergy, but it is their responsibility to steer clear of the food item, not mine or the school's. A reasonable accommodation would be to not use that item in food meant for the entire class -- but even then, providing an alternative should do. And, if the allergy is so severe that they can't be anywere near a peanut butter sandwich, then public schools, as well as most other public places, are not a good place to be.

ns said...

I know of one private school that has a special lunch place for kids with severe allergies. That way, they don't tell other parents what to pack, and they protect the allergic kids from PBJ's.

I too think it's being a very bad human if you force everyone else in the world to accommodate you. While I can empathize with people with severe allergies, making the whole school change their life to suit one student is excessive.