Many kids live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The mom of third-trader Jared Michaud says "If he couldn’t have peanut butter, he’d starve,” she said. “That’s what he brings every day for lunch, a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich." In this respect, he's not unlike thousands of kids in school cafeterias across the world.
Yet the preferred lunchbox contents of kids like Jared has become a sticky subject with some parents, whose children have severe peanut allergies. Some want to see school districts ban peanut products – including the beloved PB&J sandwich – from school property in order to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.
Donna Doyle, who supervises school nurses for Killingly Public Schools, says "We absolutely understand where these parents are coming from who want peanuts banned." Legal guidelines mandate allergy-free tables in the lunchroom. In many districts across the country, each school has a food allergy plan and ensures that staff are trained to uphold safeguards against cross-contamination.
The parent of one third-grader with a severe peanut allergy says "I’ve got mixed emotions about" banning peanuts. "My son is certainly educated on his allergy, and I’m not big on an institution or government stepping in on something like that. But if I see that schools become less responsible and aren’t keeping up with the safeguards, I probably would change my tune," she says.
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Some schools have already decided to go entirely peanut-free. Goodyear Early Childhood Center, home to around 130 preschool-aged students, has been nut free since 2008. At the beginning of the school year, parents are told not to send nut products in their children's lunches, a rule that is upheld by staff members who check each child's lunch every day. School officials say the policy works because the school is small and the children are young. "Parents accepted it when we did it, and it went rather smoothly. But it would be very hard to keep a school with 600 to 800 students nut-free."
Although the age of the children attending Goodyear makes this policy a reasonable solution, administrators there also admit that "It’s really not in the child’s best interest who has the allergy." Because the rest of the world is not peanut-free, "That child needs to learn to be able to control their own allergy.”
Others argue that the policy isn't fair for children accustomed to bringing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with their lunch. "But is it fair for my child to take something he loves away?" questioned one school official. Another says "We switched out peanut butter for sun butter (made out of sunflower seeds) in our kindergarten classes one time," but "They can tell. They would ask us why we weren’t giving them real peanut butter."
What do you think? How far should schools go to prevent students with severe allergies from coming into contact with peanut butter?