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Over-the-top Response To Child With Peanut Allergy

The Jr. Pundits both have allergies to peanuts so it brought special attention when we saw CNN had ran a piece titled, Parents Picket Girl with Peanut Allergy, Ask Her to Withdraw from School:

A student at Edgewater Elementary School in Volusia County, Florida, is being asked to withdraw from the school by her classmates’ parents.

The student has a life-threatening peanut allergy and, as a result, her classmates are asked to make accommodations to ensure her safety. Some parents of children at the school say the extra steps their children are taking to ensure the girl’s health, such as washing their hands or rinsing out their mouths, are taking away from their own children’s learning. Meanwhile, the school is standing by its decision to make accommodations for the student.

Part of the issue here is that this school seems to be doing some very over-the-top things to deal with a peanut allergy. Although each case is different and we don’t have any details about this little girl, typically the key issue is preventing the child from eating peanuts or products made with peanuts. Even smearing peanut butter on the arm of a kid with peanut allergies won’t typically cause a lethal reaction.

So policies such as requiring children to rinse out their mouths seems like overkill. Some schools are now peanut-free; others will declare certain class rooms to be peanut-free; others have peanut free tables at lunch, and still others institute policies to prohibit young children from sharing food.

Our personal experience has been that the biggest issues are other parents who don’t know the situation and might bring into school Peanut M&Ms or a cookie made with peanut butter, not knowing or forgetting that some of the children have peanut allergies.

The Pundit family was torn… on the one hand, we wanted our children safe, yet we also feared that a “peanut-free school” would create a false sense of safety for the Jr. Pundits. After all, it is not a peanut-free world.

So we are pleased that the Jr. Pundits, though only 9 and 7 years of age, won’t eat anything without grilling the relevant adult. It is a pleasure to hear them interrogate the maître d’ during brunch at a fancy hotel and their teacher during the class party. We think we are helping them become self-sufficient by teaching them to protect themselves rather than assuming the school will protect them.

Still, we find the response of the parents at this school troubling. The rules seem to consist of leaving bagged lunches outside the classroom, having the students wash their hands and rinse their mouths after they eat. These rules may not all be necessary, but they hardly seem onerous and unlikely to detract from anyone’s education.

We could make the case that these types of experiences can be made into important teaching moments. Children not interested at all in science will suddenly become interested when it is about their classmate. So it seems like this could be a great time to teach about allergies and, for that matter, about peanuts.

Beyond academics, though, parents want their children to be good people. What kind of lesson are these parents teaching their children when they object so strenuously to helping a six-year-old first grade girl?

The school administrators claim they are obligated by Federal law to treat the peanut allergy as a disability and make reasonable accommodations for the child. That may be true but shouldn’t be necessary.

We took the Jr. Pundits to the movies recently and we arrived early so the boys were able to get their favorite seats, dead center in the first elevated row. Right in front of them is wheelchair seating and then there are a few rows on the floor in front of that.

In any case, the theater sold out and we wound up having a couple seats on each side of the Pundit family. When a family of four asked if we would mind moving over so they could sit together the boys resisted. They had carefully counted the seats to make sure they were in the exact middle. Much to the boy’s chagrin, the Pundit intervened and insisted we all move over.

We were not, of course, obligated to move legally, nor was there any theater policy that required us to do so. It is not even certain that etiquette required such a move. After all, these people were simply going to suffer the consequence of their own actions — arriving last minute at the theater.

Still, we moved over. And we made the boys move, despite their objections, mostly because we hope they will grow up as people with a heart, with some empathy for others. The small sacrifice of moving over two seats enabled a family to be together, and we hope the children will come to appreciate that giving in this small way is a rewarding feeling. We hope one day they will realize that the whole world is easier to live in if most people behave this way.

But watching these parents picket and knowing a six-year-old girl has to cross that picket line makes us despair for what kind of world our children will actually wind up living in.

You can see the two CNN reports below:


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