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What’s the issue?
We have children at school this year who are allergic to nuts and related nut products. The specifics and the severity are different for different children. While there are other causes of allergies (wasps, pets, lilacs), the Anaphylaxis Handbook for School Boards says: “Peanuts and nuts are the most common allergen causing anaphylaxis in school-aged children. The Ontario Coroner’s office reported seven deaths of school-aged children from allergic reaction to
peanuts, tree-nuts, or sesame seeds between 1986-1991.”
What is anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is the medical term for allergic shock. An allergic reaction to peanuts and nuts can be any or all of the following: tingling in the mouth, hives, itching, flushed face, and body, swelling of eyes, lips, face, and tongue, tightness in the throat, mouth, and chest, difficulty breathing and swallowing, wheezing, coughing, choking, vomiting and stomach upset, dizziness and unsteadiness, loss of consciousness, coma and death. Some individuals can react to traces of peanuts or other substances.
What do these families do about it?
These households obviously must control the foods that they buy. Parents have to educate themselves, their children and friends. A big responsibility lies with the child. All of them have known the seriousness of their allergy for quite some time. They have been taught by their parents and caregivers never to accept food from others and to not share food with their friends. In addition to the obvious (eg. peanut butter), these children must remember to avoid foods that may contain peanuts, almonds, by-products etc. such as granola bars, cookies, candy. It's important to note that their friends have been some of their best allies by remembering not to have foods around containing
peanuts. Most, if not all, carry EpiPens (pre-filled adrenaline syringes), some also wear medic-alert bracelets. This medication is safe and effective, but may need to be given quickly. These children know that it is their allergy and that they have to learn responsibility for it; but, like all small children responsibility evolves over time.
What’s so special about peanut butter?
The particular problems with peanut butter come from its popularity with the rest of us and from its sticky texture. It’s fairly obvious to even a young child how to avoid certain foods. But peanut butter gets left behind on desks, door handles, plates, knives etc. It’s hard to clean up. It doesn’t dry up.
Why not just ban peanut products at school?
The Calgary Board of Education policy reflects the fact that trying to ban peanuts, nuts and related products from schools is unrealistic. It would be impossible to demand or guarantee compliance. Even with complete co-operation, it’s too easy to make a mistake, given the wide range of affected foods. A ban could give staff, parents, other students, and most importantly the allergic child, a false sense of security. These children must learn to take
responsibility themselves to live in the world. The world is not peanut-free.
What is the school doing?
It is important that adults at the school know who these children are and what to do if there is a problem. We have “picture gallery” posters with pictures of these children. In the office there is a special file drawer with medications and instructions for each child. Teachers and other staff have been trained to recognize symptoms and administer
medication. When we have in-class food served (eg. cake), the allergic child brings his/her own snack. Parents are asked to avoid peanuts, etc. from classroom snacks. In the lunchroom, peanut butter is eaten at a designated table, that table is later cleaned by an adult. Children wash their hands after eating peanut butter. We work towards educating our whole school community. Friends and classmates are willing and able to help.
Thank you for your understanding and co-operation in creating a safe environment for our children. For further information or questions, feel free to call the school.