By Dr. Paul Ehrlich
Our Twitter avatar AACMaven reports to me that a town in Florida is divided over the cautious procedures implemented to protect a six-year old girl from exposure to peanuts such as requiring children to rinse their mouths and wash their hands to eliminate peanut residue, which some parents deem to be an encroachment on their own kids’ instruction time. This paragraph from a very thoughtful piece on Allergic Kid is especially disturbing:
“[T]here have been so many threats made against their child by parents in online comments, such as putting peanut oil on their own child’s backpack, that the family has decided it is no longer safe to send their daughter to school. These protesters have successfully managed to bully a six year old out of school, because of her disability.”
I have tried to look into this a bit deeper. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have reached the Miami Herald, so information is still limited to the blogosphere, not all of it reliable. The salient point for me is that this difficult problem has incited parents to near homicidal rage, which is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the peanut oil on the backpack, and victimized a little girl who already has a serious medical issue. This is a medical policy problem that shouldn’t pit family against family, especially when a small child is involved.
I think the current incident points to the urgency of achieving a wider consensus on how food allergy should be dealt with in schools. Individual schools shouldn’t feel they must improvise based on the particulars of what may be their first experience with peanut allergy. Our food allergy writer Kathy Franklin, weighed the pros and cons of peanut-free schools here. Kathy has run the parent support group at my office for 20 years, voluntarily. Her work has been recognized by FAAN and Food Allergy Initiative.
I would love to know more facts about this case. In the meantime, the pros from Food Allergy Initiative and FAAN have weighed in.
Personally after more than 30 years of practice I am unaware of any child who has been affected by peanut exposure that could have been prevented by hand washing and mouth rinsing. I have worked with the New York City Department of Education for years. There are almost 1500 schools educating a million kids. Teachers and administrators know how to use EpiPens. Some schools have experimented with peanut-free lunchrooms and lunch tables, with the nurse present through the meal. Snacks and birthday treats are monitored. Incidents do occasionally take place, but expeditious action has prevented any fatalities. Further restrictions are highly unlikely. I once asked Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the Department, whether he thought schools would go peanut free, and he answered, “Paul, it will never happen.”
That said, there’s no justification for mob rule and anonymous threats. Anyone who purports to be making a reasoned argument through such tactics is delusional.