Thursday, August 28, 2008

Back to School with Peanut Allergies

You all may have noticed the food allergy button on my sidebar. Most of you (knock on wood) will NEVER have to deal with such things but this post is being written to educate you because chances are you have others in your school who do. Food allergies are on the rise. If you suffer with food allergies or love someone who does there will be some really cool links at the end.

For our family back to school is a mixture of thanks and dread. Thanks that we will be back on schedule, dread because every.single.year we start all over again with teachers and administrators who don't always "get it." You see, buddy boy has a peanut allergy and while we control our environment and the food he eats for the most part. School is in essence a loaded gun for him.

Dramatics aside, peanut oil is something that stays on the hands until they are washed with soap and water. Picture glitter on the hand of the child who had peanut butter toast for breakfast. That glitter (or peanut oil) gets stuck to everything that child touches in the school. The door into the building, the door to the classroom, the chair, the pencil sharpener, the shared scissors, the balls during gym, you name it, if you can touch it you can leave your glitter behind. Now picture what an average school looks like....ALL.A.GLITTER.EVERY.WHERE.

This next part is the part most don't know or understand, so pay attention (please):

A child with a nut allergy has an internal "cup" that cup begins to "fill up" with every exposure they have to the allergen (in our case peanuts). It can be an oral exposure OR a contact exposure. So, by touching the peanut traces my son will react through his skin (many times with hives) and it adds more to his "cup". When the cup overflows that is when an anaphylactic reaction occurs. So, you see, it is not a matter of IF he will have anaphylaxis, it is WHEN. The best way for us to postpone that day is to keep him from coming into contact with the allergen the best we can and that is through education of both teachers, students and parents.

Where do you think the most dangerous place in the school is? Most of you will guess the cafeteria, right? So much PBJ, peanut butter and honey, peanut butter cookies, crackers, nuts for protein. However, our school has put measures in place for the lunchroom. There is a table my son sits at with the other food allergy kids and it is cleaned with separate cleaning supplies, including bucket and cloth. So, really, that table he sits at is most likely the LEAST contaminated part of that school. Picture all those children now going out to recess....ugghhh!! touch the basketball, the playground equipment, the door handle. However, our school also has put other measures in place. Albeit a hassle to constantly be "on" them about being consistent. All the cold lunch kids (where most nut foods come from) wash their hands after they eat and are seated all together. The hot lunch kids sit all together as well.

We have started school (since I began drafting this post) and to my surprise the school sent home the following letter to every parent in the numerous classrooms that school nut allergic children. I have to say it has been 5 years coming and I couldn't be happier. We have met with lots of resistance from administration as well as a handful of ignorant assholes uneducated parents.

"Dear Parent or Guardian:

A student or students in your child's classroom is/are allergic to Peanuts, Peanut Butter, and ALL Nuts. A severe reaction (anaphylasis) may occur as a result of ingesting the food item or in some instances by physical skin contact. This is a life-threatening allergy that may cause difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness and may require administration of emergency medication and hospitalization.

Avoidance is the only way to prevent a severe allergic reaction. The school has developed a plan to reduce the risk of exposure for those children who are allergic to certain food items. Some of the precautions taken include allergen-free tables and sections in the lunchroom, allergen-free tables washed with separate cleaning supplies to avoid cross contamination, and lunchroom/classroom procedures to reduce contact and exposure with foods containing the allergen that are brought to school.

Please make your best efforts to avoid sending foods that contain the foods to which their classmate(s) are allergic. Be aware that prepackaged food may have ingredients which can come in a variety of forms that contain the allergens listed above. You can also help by assisting your child in understanding the precautions that must be taken to reduce the risk of exposure of an allergic classmate to the allergen that may cause a life-threatening reaction.

By working together staff, parents and students can help lessen the risk of a severe allergic incident in our building fostering a safe environment for everyone. Thank you for joining us in this effort."

Still with me? God bless you! All I can say is this is nothing short of amazing! We had been told for years that such a letter could not be sent.

Please, if you know a child who has severe food allergies or is in your classroom at school, please educate yourself and know that the parents of these little (and not so little) ones carry a lot of stress and anxiety around how to handle this situation. Believe me I have had my fair share of run ins with irate parents. will have an occasion to ask the school/teacher for a special accommodation for our child at some point. It might be social, educational, medical...but the day will come when YOUR child needs an accommodation so in the mean time support those who have those accommodations now.

Cheers to a year where I am not sending my child off to school with a total pit in my stomach!

Here are those links I promised you: (a GREAT blog about peanut allergies, tons of resources there)

Peanut free sites with food:

epipen video


  1. Thankfully we have not had to worry about this, however one of my girlfriends has TWO peanut allergy kids...and the school nurse is only their part time and they (the school) keep telling her that she (the nurse) is the only one allowed to give the epipen injection. OMG, are some people just stupid or what. What if the nurse isn't there the day those kids or any kid comes in contact with peanuts??? Watch...for goodness sake!!!

    I'm glad that your school has finally gotten on board, it's something that can not be changed, so it's nice they are helping educate the students and parents. After all, isn't that what school is all about? Education?

  2. What a great victory for you! It's been a long time coming.

  3. Nicely put! That letter truly is a blessing, hopefully people really read it.

  4. My niece has nut allergies so I totally appreciate where this is coming from.

  5. Our school sent home a similar letter, and my hubbs was a little peeved. I asked him to think of it as if it were our kids. How would he feel then?

    Thanks for posting this KP!


  6. Steph- tell sil about the site if she doesn't already know about it, they have a GREAT school section. Seems to me they are WACK and I would be very uncomfortable with that scenario!

    Headless- a small victory indeed, but we don't go all crazy and let down our guard, things can turn on a dime. Like the time someone called the news to say the school was discriminating because they were not letting hot and cold lunch friends sit together.

    JC- thanks for coming by and I agree, I hope they read it. As great a first step, a piece of paper does not keep the kids safe, but concientious parents and staff.

    Carol- how old is your niece?

    Marne- what was it that upset him?

  7. Wonderful perspective here!! I've got a post coming up about the peanut bans on Monday. I've got mixed feelings. Ultimately I want my son to be safe but sometimes they can be used to mistreat the PA child. That concerns me, as well. Our schools have a similar policy as yours and I am glad when he starts school he will be protected. Wouldn't it be nice if they were entirely banned from the planet? That is a ban I would support!!

    Thanks for the link back and giving such a great compliment. I'm glad you've found the blog helpful!!

  8. I am so glad to have read this post. My kids LOVE peanut butter- they really would eat it several times a day if I let them. I am so glad that you made me aware of this as I am sure that my kids would contaminate those sweet kids with allergies. We will limit peanuts and other related products to our house and be careful to wash with soap and water before leaving.

  9. I'm happy to hear that the school is beginning to get with the program. Hopefully it won't always be a battle. Food allergies and esp. the peanut allergy is a scary thing. I'm going to take a look at some of your links to read a bit more. I don't want to unknowingly pass along anything that could hurt someone. Thanks for the info!

  10. Yes it is good the school is gettin their act together-we have a NO home-made food policy at our schools everything has to be store bought so they can protect the children with food allergies-
    You are right about the accomdations also!
    My beans arenot big PB fans-

  11. Kelly, thank you for coming by my blog, and thank you especially for your well wishes and prayers for our friends that are having the difficult pregnancy.

  12. I think it's great that as parents we are working together with the schools to make things safe for the kids. Great reminder :)

  13. We got a similar letter from our girls' (private) school last year. Fortunately, the girls were on the "full-care" program where the school would feed them a hot lunch each day. (Unfortunately, our oldest daughter would only eat PB&J or grilled cheese sandwiches.) We were thankful for the hot lunches and didn't mind avoiding the peanuts for the health of another child.

    We still have not introduced our 2 1/2 year old to peanut butter yet.

    What a great victory for you and your precious child...God Bless.

  14. Robyn- I will be interested in reading your views on peanut bans. I, personally, have gone the spectrum on this one, but have landed on the end of coming to understand that even a ban would create a false sense of security. I compare it to children in the pool with those arm floaties on...people relax almost TOO much.

    Tyne- thank you so much for being open to learning more. If only there were more moms like you out there! and believe me, I LOVE peanut butter!! *sigh*

    Leslie- thank you for coming by, looks like there ARE more moms like Tyne!!! :)

    Georgie- the "no homemade" policy makes me drool. We don't have anything like that, but Buddy Boy has been taught since an early age that homemade at someone else's home is not usually safe for him.

    Lisa- thanks for your comment, I agree, everyone working together is a blessing.

    JSue- again, I'm not an advocate for a ban, just education across the board. Keep that PB from your little one as long as you can. Ours was diagnosed at 15 months after a small corner of "only jelly" of a PBJ.

    Thanks for your comments ladies. I love open dialouge, even with differing opinions!

    This week you ALL (and any subsequent commentors will be featured in my blog roll stroll!!

  15. I too have a child with a peanut allergy - he just started kindergarten.

    I have educated the teacher, the cafeteria and the nurse. I have taught him as much as I can. We were told when we registered that he would be in a "peanut free/tree nut free" classroom. Come to find out, the principal deicided to make kinder and 1st grade as "nut-free" as possible.

    I found some comfort in that, until I visited their playground, only to find a massive pecan tree shading the area.

    (head in hands)

    I have nightmares of the "call" that might come.

    I appreciate all the parents out there that understand. I curse the ones that don't.

    I wouldn't hand your child rat poison - how hard is it to understand the ramifications of my child touching peanut butter?!

    Sorry - a very passionate subject for me. I hope the school year is going well for you guys!!


  16. Em- I can feel your pain. I do want you to know that it does get better as they grow. Keep educating everyone the best you can, most people are just seriously under-educated about the topic. I know I was clueless before our son's diagnosis.
    It will always be a passionate topic for you. Since the rate of peanut allergies is on the rise I have a feeling that over the next 5 years it won't be as big of a struggle.

    Never apologize for feeling passionate about your child's well being!! :)

    hang in there!


  17. Thanks Kelly!! I have a secret fantasy of a peanut vaccination. I have a feeling at least this one will come true.

    The bigger picture is for scientists to figure out what is triggering the immune system. It's only a matter of time until schools are going to need "wheat-free" and "corn-free" rooms - why is that?!


  18. Excellent post! Great explanation! I love how you created the visual with the glitter.

    My son goes to a private school because we couldn't come to terms with the lack of restrictions in our public school. The teachers and administrators at my son's private school have been very receptive to helping us put policies in place. But it's certainly a struggle everyday, especially on days like this one:

    I will definitely bookmark this one for future reference.
    =] emily