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It's hard to believe something as small as a peanut could cause so much controversy. But put it in a lunch bag and it can divide a school.
In Viola, Arkansas, a debate is heating up, after a student had his peanut butter and jelly sandwich confiscated at lunchtime. The school has a no-peanut-products policy due to a few students with allergies, so the teacher helped the little boy get a new lunch and sent home a note explaining the situation to his mom.
That note didn't go over well, apparently. Soon after the incident, a "School Nut Ban Discussion" group was launched on Facebook by parents conflicted over the policy.
Some parents believe allergy-free students shouldn't have to cater to a few kids' health sensitivities, particularly if it means cutting out healthy or low-cost snacks packed in their own child's lunchbox.
The mom who packed the confiscated PB&J sandwich thinks kids with allergies should learn "how to manage the problem" rather than live inside a "bubble," according to a local news report.
Other parents of special needs kids feel like they're playing second fiddle to those with allergies. "There are some autistic children that will only eat a PB&J sandwich or nothing at all," one parent opposing the ban argued on Facebook. According to the Viola District Superintendent John May, this is the first push-back on a policy in place in his school for some time.
"The policy is in place to protect those with a severe, life threatening problem," May told Area Wide News, a Missouri-based news site. "Until we figure out something else, it would be foolish to drop the policy."
Keep reading to learn more about this lunch staple controversy.
Over the span of a decade, reports of kids with peanut allergies have spiked by 18 percent, according to the CDC. Today, about 1 in 25 children suffer from the condition, and about 18 percent of them have had attacks in school. As a result, school-wide peanut bans have doubled in the past two years. But they haven't come without a fight.
One Connecticut mother of an allergic child was shocked by the hostility she was met with when proposing a peanut ban at her own kid's school. "People were extremely rude," she told the Associated Press. "They just thought it was a ridiculous request."
A child's well-being may have triggered the debate, but at the core of the conflict is a turf war. Is one parent's concerns about their own child interfering with the way other kids are raised? Some parents of allergic kids know being unpopular comes with the territory.
"Nobody wants to be a Peanut Allergy Mom," writes Mommyish blogger Gloria Fallon, whose son has severe life-threatening peanut allergies. "My main concern is my son's health, but I also don't want everyone to hate us. I actually am sorry for all the inconvenience having a PA kid creates. I know if my son didn't have food allergies, I'd probably think the kid who did was a pain in the a--. So I try to understand that for the most part, no one gets what we're going through."
Back in Viola, parents are looking for a compromise within the elementary school — hoping for a middle-ground approach some other institutions have taken. As opposed to banning nuts, some schools require all their teachers to be trained in using EpiPens, a life-saving device used in severe allergic attacks. Separating nut-eaters from non-nut-eaters in the lunchroom is another way to protect kids and raise awareness among students.
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a nut allergy advocacy group, believes compromise is better for kids with allergies than an outright ban. "What we want is everyone always thinking there could be a possibility (of an allergic reaction) and be on guard for it," the group's founder, Anne Munoz-Furlong, told the Associated Press.
But with compromise comes with new problems. Isolating a child at a separate table because of his or her allergies can create social ostracism and lead to bullying. (The American Pediatrics Association even cautions parents and teachers about the risk of harassment kids with peanut allergies face.)
Sitting at a special nut-free table or being the subject of a health lesson in class may save a kid's life but it won't win him any popularity contests. Fallon says that every time she drops her allergic son Nick off at a party, she has to run through worst case scenarios and procedures with the person in charge. "This usually results in the person looking frightened and probably wishing they didn't invite Nick," she says. "Nobody likes the finale, me especially."
— Piper Weiss
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