"No peanut" lunchroom policy causes controversy at Viola Elementary

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Amber Middlebrooks speaks to the Viola School Board in behalf of concerned parents who question a policy that does not allow peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other peanut based products to be consumed in the elementary school lunchroom, because one or more students could have severe allergy attacks from being near peanuts.

A confiscated peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the Viola Elementary School lunch room has touched off a big controversy among parents.

School Superintendent John May said a policy has been in place at the elementary school for about six years, banning food products containing peanuts, because at least one student has severe allergic reactions to even breathing near peanuts or products containing peanuts.

Denise Clifton-Jones started the discussion when a teacher noticed her son, Jenkins, had brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat in the lunch room. The teacher took the sandwich, helped him get a lunch tray and sent home a note explaining the no-peanut products policy, which was discussed at the school's open house before school began.

Clifton-Jones was angered by the action and began speaking out on her Facebook page. She got so much response that a Facebook "School Nut Ban Discussion" page was created. It has attracted more than 40 comments.

Clifton-Jones, who is a nurse practitioner, suggested parents should be teaching the child with the severe allergy "how to manage the problem. Placing kids in a "bubble" is not managing anything."

In another post, Clifton-Jones said, "There are many severe allergies to many kinds of healthy foods. Just because a few children are allergic to something is no good reason to ban ALL kids from eating their favorite foods. Public schools should try to accommodate all kids to the best of their ability, not accommodate a few at the expense of the masses."

Most people who have weighed in on the issue have opposed the peanut product ban, calling school staff "the food police." "Are they banning milk, too?" another citizen asked.

The mother of a Viola elementary student with severe allergies said she had educated her child in ways to try to avoid allergic reactions, and she keeps an emergency medication on hand to react if a reaction occurs. But the writer added that people with severe allergies can go into anaphylactic shock by breathing certain foods, or being touched by someone who has handled foods, like peanuts, which can cause a reaction. "I truly feel the sacrifice of sending nut-free products (to school) isn't that bad," the mother said, because some control is needed to avoid a life or death situation.

Anaphylactic shock is described as a severe, life threatening reaction which can include difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and heart failure. An Epipen is a pen that delivers the drug epinephrine, which counter acts an alergic reaction.

Some who have entered the discussion page have called for a rational discussion, and compromise. "Praying for a compromise in which the "nut" and "no nuts" can work this out in peace and harmony," one e-mail said.

Posts on the discussion page indicated that school board members had been contacted, and concerned parents were urged to attend the Sept. 10 school board meeting to discuss the issue.

Superintendent May said confidentiality laws prevent him from discussing specific students. He said, however, in the years the "no-peanut product" policy has been in effect at the school, he had received only one negative comment about it, until the recent flare up.

"The policy is in place to protect those with a severe, life threatening problem," May said. "Until we figure out something else, it would be foolish to drop the policy."

At the school board meeting, May indicated the school's Wellness Committee will evaluate the current policy and seek public comment on concerns about it, to determine whether policy changes are needed. Recommendations could be brought to the school board at a later date.

May urged the board not to discuss the issue during its meeting, out of fear specific students could be named, violating laws that protect their confidentiality. The board did allow two of seven citizens who attended the meeting to speak, but it made no decisions during the meeting.

Viola advertising scam

May and high school principal Bryan Russell have issued a warning about a company which has been contacting area businesses claiming it is selling advertisements to help Viola schools raise money.

According to the superintendent, the company is believed to use several names, and often tells businesses their ad will go on t-shirts, megaphones or other products that will be given away at games.

"This company contacted us and we said we wanted nothing to do with it," May said. "If it is still contacting businesses, the calls are unwanted on our part. We feel like it's a scam and, if someone agrees to the company's offer, they are giving their money to the company. We will not get any of it."

Viola school officials say, if they are ever involved in fundraisers, students or someone from the school will be doing the selling. The school does not use outside companies to solicit people to buy advertisements.

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  • I have two boys who are extremely picky eaters, and putting a protein power bar (often with peanut product) or peanut butter crackers in their lunch has been one of the ways I can be assured that they get a little protein boost for the day. They have had a few classmates with severe peanut allergies and as they became older, they understood the need to respect those kids with the allergies. It is common for teachers to send notes home regarding the allergies; food for class parties are chosen carefully; and I believe the kids do sit in separate areas for lunch. We want ALL our children to be safe, and with some thoughtful planning, education, and awareness, I believe this can be achieved.

    -- Posted by Lagunaticmom on Sat, Sep 15, 2012, at 8:36 PM
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