We did not have the Peanut Table in the cafeteria when we went to school. We didn’t have the Peanut Bus when we went on field trips. Our moms didn’t have to be careful about what snacks they packed or what treats they brought in for class parties.
It’s a different world now.
Peanut allergies have doubled in children just between 1997 and 2002, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network. I wonder what the statistics are if we compared children’s allergies between 1980, when most of us were in school, and 2011?
I heard an anecdotal story about a current Loch Raven High School student with a peanut allergy, frustrated at the fuss that was made about riding the Peanut Bus for a field trip. She rolled her eyes and said, “As long as you don’t French kiss me while you’re eating a peanut butter sandwich, I’ll be fine!”
She might consider her allergy to not be a big deal, but many parents prefer to err on the side of safety. And there are plenty of kids whose allergies are more severe than hers, who literally cannot be anywhere near a peanut.
And what about lesser known allergies, like milk and soy and wheat?
Baltimore County Public Schools recently adopted a new policy. For any kind of classroom celebration, the treats that parents donate must be store-bought. That way, the ingredients list is right there on the box, and everyone knows precisely what’s in those cookies.
While this is a relief to moms like me, who can now just swing by the supermarket’s bakery without feeling ashamed that my cupcakes don’t have that homemade icing, it’s kind of sad, too. A few years ago I had a blast making Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Bulls-Eye Balls (e-mail me for the recipe!) with my kids for the Bake Table at a spring celebration at school.
That’s a double no-no, now, between the peanut butter and using my own kitchen.
Susan Vita, the school nurse at Lutherville Laboratory Elementary, said, “Baltimore County stocks EpiPens at the school for any anaphylactic reaction—food allergies, insect allergies, anything like that.”
Vita also warned, “If you don’t have a food allergy now, doesn’t mean you won’t come down with one.”
Vita is an expert on food allergies as the school nurse, but also as a mom. Her daughter Beth was in sixth grade at Cockeysville Middle School when she suddenly developed an allergy to cinnamon—yes, cinnamon—and earned herself a shot with the EpiPen and a trip to St. Joseph’s Medical Center.
All Baltimore County school nurses give a training session to the entire school staff on how to use an EpiPen. That way, anyone can administer the life-saving shot if a child is having an allergic reaction.
Vita said, “If in doubt, always give the EpiPen. It’ll raise your blood pressure, it’ll raise your heart rate, but the flip side of that is death. You don’t fool around with breathing.”
It’s serious business. We want our kids to be safe. But we also feel silly jumping through hoops to safeguard against food allergies, when some kids’ allergies might not be severe at all, and it’s just an over-protective parent (or a lawsuit-fearing school system) that dictates whether our own non-allergic kids can be allowed to eat their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on school grounds.
What do you say, moms and dads? How do you feel about the school’s efforts to protect the kids with allergies? Is it enough, or has it crossed the line into paranoia? Tell us in the comments!