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Why School Peanut Bans Keep Changing

Reports of severe allergic reactions have spiked, but that doesn’t mean your kid’s PB&J’s are banned.

Credit: Burlington Patch
Credit: Burlington Patch
In schools across the country, peanut butter, once as innocuous as grape jelly, has morphed into the contraband at the center of a debate between parents, educators and medical professionals. Schools put up hard bans, then take them down, and parents are left wondering why a sandwich that was treated as a WMD last year is permissible again this year. Here are 4 things to keep in mind as your school’s policies change.

1. Peanut allergies are increasing, as are reports of related deaths. Reports of peanut-related fatalities, like the death of 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi of Sacramento last month, are on the riseSo are reports of peanut allergies

Giorgi's case points to the limits of parent and student preparation: She was well aware of her allergy and prepared for action. After she took a single bite of a Rice Krispies treat made with peanut butter, she spit it out. Then she was given Benadryl. Later, when the reaction grew more severe, three EpiPens were administered. But she still succumbed.

2. Parents' increasing focus on peanut allergies may explain part of the spike in reports. Joel Stein wrote the definitive yuppie backlash piece on this in the LA Times in 2009, explaining that “a tiny number of kids have severe peanut allergies that cause anaphylactic shock, and all their teachers should be warned, handed EpiPens and given a really expensive gift at Christmas. But ... genes don't mutate fast enough to have caused an 18% increase in childhood food allergies between 1997 and 2007. And genes certainly don't cause 25% of parents to believe that their kids have food allergies, when 4% do. Yuppiedom does.”

Inevitably, as with lockdown procedures, your school officials may be responding to the demands from parents as much as anything. If you’re a parent, it’s good to keep that in mind and keep a level head.

3. School peanut policies vary widely, and schools often change their policies. Giorgi’s parents, who shared their story  “to convince skeptical parents that food allergies in children is very real,” would like to see every school follow suit. But peanut products are still served in many school cafeterias, and there is no national policy regarding their presence on campuses. Some schools already prohibit home-baked goodies and only allow prepackaged foods with ‘peanut-free’ labels. In some states, a peanut ban is up to individual school officials. More often, entire districts have prohibited peanuts in their school kitchens.

Also, a number of schools have opted for "peanut-free"lunch tables as opposed to an outright ban. But that leads us to...

4. Children with food allergies often get bullied and ostracized at school. According to a study released last year, “almost half of children who have food allergies have been bullied -- sometimes by having food thrown at them.” In schools with separate lunchroom tables for allergic students, there are common reports from children of feeling isolated and even shunned from the general school population.

When you consider that school administrators are torn between demands to fight bullying and to navigate allergy issues, you begin to see how the cases of just a few kids—allergic, bullied, or both—can turn a school policy.

What do you think is the solution to the peanut problem? Let us know in the comments or a blog post.
ray September 26, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Did she die from her allergy or from an overdose of medication?
Jake Mooney September 27, 2013 at 11:57 AM
Teach my children the 3 Rs. I'll do the rest.
Steven M. Schiffman September 27, 2013 at 01:34 PM
The word "bullied" is overdone. For years it meant physical confrontation; not words. We grew up with "sticks and stones" attitudes - which seems to be lacking these days. Did some students "make fun" of others? sure, but that was normal. Maybe you did not wear "Gant" shirts, or Bass "Wejans" shoes? or that you had a crew cut hair style; or that you wore a plastic pen holder in your shirt pocket! Or maybe you were in the glee club or marched in the school band. Those are not bullying; those are just ways of kids acting immature - because in reality - they were at that age! Please stop with this over-relying of "bullying" for not adopting and/or being ignored in some cliques or social circles.
Don Westwood September 27, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Let's just ban peanuts worldwide! That will do the trick. I'm sure most liberals will say right on! These are the same people who believe in global warming. Lol.
rowena cherry September 27, 2013 at 09:17 PM
The child in question died because she was given Benadryl instead of the Epipen and calling 911 immediately. The Epipens were administered too late. Peanut allergies are very serious, and for instance if a teenager eats peanuts, it is more than 16 hours before he could kiss (for instance) an allergic teenager and not risk killing her. Life with a peanut allergy is miserable enough without other parents and kids going out of their way to make life more miserable.
Sarah Pascascio September 27, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Wow, Joel Stein has the answers to the peanut allergy epidemic. I can't believe how confidently he makes his snooty, and dare I say yuppy-like remarks about the high rise in children and families suffering with this. I am not a yuppy. I am a parent of a sweet little boy who suffers from a severe peanut allergy. I have prepared and educated all those who's care he is in at school. He has experienced anaphylaxis so he is the most vigilant of us all. Each day I wonder is today the day he will need the Epi-pens? Will the teacher do what she has to in time? Is today the day he will die? The ignorant comments made in Stein's article undermine everything we do and experience. I'm sure this journalist doesn't have kids or even has enough friends to know of someone who suffers from this. You don't have to know a lot of people to know of someone who does. It truly is miserable and is a handicap. Only about 10% of population gets it, the other 90% think parents like me are "over-protective" or are choosing to handicap our families, like Joel Stein believes. Yuck.
Rick M September 28, 2013 at 06:42 AM
Was once on a flight with a person allergic to peanuts. The crew refused to pass out peanuts on the flight. Everyone got a banana...guess what? I'm allergic to bananas!!..so do you ban everything that people are allergic to? There are things like antihistamines and Epipens to deal with allergies. You can't punish the masses for the few.....
Sarah Pascascio September 28, 2013 at 01:43 PM
First of all, I highly doubt you are allergic to bananas, but I see that you are just trying to make a point. I agree with your point except you must understand that peanut allergies are in a class by themselves. An allergic person doesn't just sneeze, or gets a tummy ache--they die. Epi-pens buy 15 minutes of time each. That's it. We carry 3 when we fly because I can't imagine administering more than that into a little boy (son allergic). Benadryl would be given as well. But, you have to try to have the heart to understand that 90% of food fatalities happen from peanuts. Zero from bananas. We try to limit flights across country because it is risky and we don't want to make things difficult for people on planes. But, thinking of it, is it really that big of a deal to you that you were not served peanuts?? Airlines don't ban people from bringing their own. They just don't serve them. Please make yourself aware of this epidemic. If it's so annoying to you, be part of the solution and find out what the heck is going on. I never would have thought I would have an allergic kid. It really sucks. It's worse than being served a banana on a flight!
MC September 28, 2013 at 01:54 PM
I like peanuts
Sarah Pascascio September 28, 2013 at 08:41 PM
I should clarify previous post; as far as airlines not passing out peanuts, it's not about providing an allergic kid a snack they could have, it's about contaminating the surroundings of the child. Just the residue or peanut dust is potentially deadly (and costly if you think about an emergency landing). I know this is hard to comprehend, but this is a fact. I can't remember the last time anyone in my family has accepted an offered snack from anyone. We always bring our own. And fyi, sunbutter (sunflower seed butter) tastes similar to peanut butter and is higher in protein and less fattening. :) I think that's pretty cool. It also has less toxins.
Sarah Pascascio September 28, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Of course, Sun Butter's not cheap, full of sugar and potentially deadly to THREE Million Americans. That might be a problem for some smart *sses. :(
Danny Weil September 28, 2013 at 09:42 PM
The brands change due to the vested interests that profit off the change. Another stupid corporate news story. Meanwhile tent cities spring up faster than you can spread jam on your peanut butter sandwhich. But not a peep in the news.
Reesa Cooper September 28, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Both of my lil ones (ages 5 and 2) have been diagnosed with both peanut and all treenut allergy. Though I can understand why parents of non-allergic children have a problem with being inconvenienced by the prohibition of nut-containing foods, I think that if it was their child with the life threatening condition, they would have a bit more empathy and just suck it up and pack an alternative (there are LOTS of yummy ones). Our allergist believes that the high number of cases MAY be correlated to the way that peanut products are processed in the US (other areas of the world have much lower numbers of cases according to him). So my bigger beef is with these companies who want to do things the cheap way and process these products in a way that MAY lead to deaths. Anyway, I just think that parents should just imagine if it was their child's LIFE that could potentially be put in danger on a daily basis. I know for both of my babies.... it's worth it.

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