Nut-Free Schools or Not? Parents Weigh In
It seems that every food allergy organization, website, Facebook page, and blog are talking about back-to-school with food allergies right now and how our children can survive the classroom for 7 hours a day without us. This is one of the most stressful times of the year for food-allergic parents. Do my child’s teacher and the school administration understand the severity of my child’s allergies? Did they really listen to me? Will the nurse or staff know when to use the Epi-Pen instead of dismissing symptoms or simply relying on Benadryl? Do I need a 504 plan? Will my child be picked on for his allergies? And what about classroom snacks? And lunchtime?!!! Maybe I should just home school.
Fortunately, more and more schools are understanding the severity of food allergies – heck, how can that not be the case with 7-8% of young children having one or more? – though this is unfortunately not yet universal. In fact, there are still just too many instances of pushback from school staff and from parents of non-food allergic children. This pushback from other parents seems to be particularly fierce when the issue of a school going nut-free is introduced. It usually culminates with a raging battle between one child’s “right” to eat peanut butter and the other’s “right” to live!
But even amongst our own community, nut-free schools are a controversial issue. Is going nut-free the appropriate way to protect children with nut allergies? Is it hurting their preparation for the “real world?” Is it discounting the significance of other allergies that other children have? Will it make a school more lax about the need for other protective measures? Is there a “right age” for being nut-free? And if so, what is it? The list of reasons that I’ve heard for and against nut-free schools from our community goes on and on. Clearly, there’s no consensus. Nor will there be a consensus any time soon.
So what should we do NOW? We can’t resolve all our differences, but aren’t there solutions we can take now? Should a school go nut-free? Should it have a nut-free lunch table? Should there be no restrictions at all?
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan asked this very question of parents of both nut allergic children and non-nut allergic children. Their national poll findings were presented in March of this year in a report titled, “Nut-free Lunch? Parents Speak Out.” You might find them very surprising. I did.
Here are the highlights as written in the report:
- Parents of nut-allergic children vary in their views of how schools should manage their child’s lunchtime
- Most parents of children without nut allergies (58%) think schools should have nut-allergic children eat lunch in a designated area, such as a nut-free table
- Less than 40% of parents support a school-wide ban on nut-containing products
Better yet, check out this infographic:
So what surprised me the most?
- I was shocked to see that 47% of parents of nut-allergic children want no restrictions on what other children can eat.
- I was shocked to see that almost a similar percentage (actually a greater number) of parents without nut-allergic children were in favor of nut-free schools as parents with nut-allergic children.
- I was shocked to see that only 17% of parents without nut-allergic children wanted no special accommodations for the nut-allergic children.
I won’t begin to speculate on why each group feels the way they do except to say that it appears the non-food allergy community may be more understanding and compassionate than some might think. Whether we agree or disagree with the approach favored by the “no nut allergy” group, it appears (in the words of the study authors) that “among parents of non-allergic children, there is the greatest level of support for an approach that they perceive would protect a child with a nut allergy. Maybe we’re so used to focusing on those specific parents that make a big, loud show about how their kids should have whatever they want that we miss the silent majority who recognize that we’re all parents who should help each other keep our children safe!
Beyond the infographic, there were 3 other statistics the study shared in which the level of support was no different between the two sets of parents.
- 61% support a policy that nut-containing lunch or snack items are not allowed for classes with a nut-allergic child
- 43% support a policy that no food brought from home is allowed at school parties or special events
- 38% support a policy that nut-containing lunch or snack items are not allowed anywhere in school
Again, there was no significant difference in these percentages between parents of nut-allergic children and all other parents. (Nor have any of these statistics demonstrated a significant difference for public v. private v. charter schools).
Other takeaways from this study:
- “No research indicates which strategy is safest.” (read this twice!)
- “Schools, governments, parents and doctors who may be involved in the decisions around school nut policies should not presume that all parents of nut-allergic children have the same preferences.”
My takeaway? We’re in a quagmire! Our schools and governments don’t know what to do and neither do we! So how do we provide them guidance?
You tell me! What do we do? How do you talk to your school? How do you help them make the right choice? What is the right choice and why? We NEED to hear your thoughts on anything and everything presented here, so please share your opinions in the Reply box below.
Once again, thank you to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan for this great research!
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