"These are the administrative guidelines that are going to be attached to the Wellness Policy that the committee arrived at," High School Principal Bryan Russell said, as he opened a Wednesday, Nov. 14 public meeting to discuss the new guidelines. "We do appreciate the community input in trying to figure out what is best for all our kids. I believe we have reached a good compromise."
Fall Controversy went viral
The September dispute sparked much comment and debate, much of it centered on a "school nut ban" discussion page established by Viola parents on Facebook. The dispute even attracted national attention when a story published in The News was picked up by the Yahoo news website. The furor has apparently died down, however, as only seven parents attended the meeting, along with seven staff and school board members and a Jonesboro attorney, who was present to represent the school district.
The Viola Elementary ban on nut products in school was begun about five years ago because a few students at the school were severely allergic to nuts.
The dispute over the ban on nuts or any food products containing nuts or peanut oil arose near the start of the school year. A parent, Denise Brown-Jones, objected when a teacher took her son's peanut butter sandwich which he had brought from home, and gave him a cafeteria lunch.
Brown-Jones complained the nut ban had not been communicated to her and other parents, it was not in the school handbook and the policy had never been approved by the school board.
Other parents also agreed with Brown-Jones that it was not fair to deny certain foods to the majority of students because a few students had an allergy, and a campaign was started to review the policy.
Superintendent John May appointed a committee to review the nut ban policy, and it sought citizen input during the discussion.
The new policies are as follows:
*The cafeteria food service will continue to not offer nut products.
*Students will be allowed to bring nut based products in individual lunches from home, but students will not be allowed to bring nut based food to school for snacks or parties.
*The school will provide a separate table for students who choose to bring nut products in their personal lunches, but friends who are not allergic to nuts will be able to sit with them.
*Students who bring nut products for lunch will be instructed to clean their hands with anti-bacterial wipes the cafeteria will provide before leaving the cafeteria.
*Students with severe nut allergies can choose to eat in the cafeteria, with their parents' permission, or choose to eat in a different location, and can invite friends to eat with them.
*All students will be educated not to share or accept food from a home packed lunch, to avoid a possible alergic reaction in another students.
*All staff members will be educated on the use of the Epi-pen, to be able to dispense medicine if a severe allergic reactin occurs in their presence.
*All staff and students will be educated to recognize signs and symptoms of allergic reaction, including choking or an obstructed airway.
*All staff members will be educated to seek emergency response when an allergic reaction occurs, including calling 911, seeking out a trained staff member to administer the Epi-pen and contacting the school nurse.
*An intercom signal code will be added to alert staff of an allergic reaction emergency, and the location of the person in need of assistance.
*Mock allergy emergency drills will be added to the current emergency response drill calendar.
During the presentation, Andrews noted the policy review has already resulted in an Oct. 17 training session, so that all staff members have been trained in the use of the Epi-pen, and steps are being taken to meet the goal of instituting the new guidelines, in both the elementary and high schools, by the start of the second semester, which will begin on Jan. 2.
Response to changes
During a question and answer period, it was asked how the school will know when a child brings a nut based product for lunch.
The answer was, parents will be asked to inform their child's teacher, and teachers will make an effort to look through lunches each day.
Principal Russell said information about the policy changes will be sent to all parents before they are put into effect. "We are going to make a plea to parents because it is a scary situation for us, and we feel like we are tending the gate here to make sure that all kids are safe. So, we are still going to make a plea to folks to not send it (nut based foods). That, unless you feel that is something you really need to do, that that is one thing you know they will eat, if you possibly can, not send it."
One parent, who has a child with severe allergies to nut expressed concern about the policy change, explaining that a civic organization, which recently visited the school, passed out peanut butter cookies to students, including her child. While the child knew to avoid contact with the cook, the parent pointed out the removal of the ban on nuts will caused more instances in which her child will be put at risk if touched by someone who has handled food containing nuts.
The parent also said teachers are concerned about the new guidelines, but are reluctant to speak out because they are fearful of "being blasted on Facebook."
The parent added she understand's the teachers' feelings because, "My family has been bashed and torn apart because of this."
Brown-Jones responded that, "Not one single person I am aware of wants anyone hurt. No one wants that."
Brown-Jones and another nut ban opponent, Jessi Walker, said the community dialog has resulted in something they both had stressed -- the need to better educate staff members and students to know what to do in cases of a severe allergic reaction.
Both mothers said the only shortfall they see with the new policies is that most students' Epi-pens are locked up in the nurse's office, and there will still be a delay treating an attack. They suggested that all teachers have an Epi-pen at their disposal to use in an emergency.
Russell said that is not currently possible because an Epi-pen is obtained with a prescription for a specific dose for a specific child, and the law requires that a school nurse have control over Epi-pens, unless a physician's order allows a child to carry one on their person.
Time for healing?
Brown-Jones agreed that Facebook comments "got out of hand," and, expressed hope that, with the new policy in place, the community can come back together.
Superintendent May expressed hope the meeting would have a healing effect.
"I think we've had an opportunity, people have had a chance to say what they need to say. It's taken about three months to reach this point," May said, adding he hopes parents now realize that, if they have a problem and concern, they can bring it to the school administration and get a fair hearing.
Attorney Mixon, who specializes in education law, said the new allergy response policy is one of the best he has ever seen.
"(This is a) workable policy that protects the children we need to protect, but let's the general population students without allergies have as much rights as they can."