Insensitive parents protest girl with peanut allergy

By Katy Nielsen

Parents of students at Edgewater Elementary School in Volusia County, Fla., wanted one first-grade girl removed from school because they said her life-threatening food allergy was affecting the education and food choices of the rest of the students. According to the Food and Drug Administration, food allergies are on the rise in the U.S.: Approximately 5 percent of children have a food allergy. This is an issue that could potentially affect more schools in the future.

The protest that occurred during the last week of March was brought on by the way the school was handling the girl’s peanut allergy. For 30 to 60 minutes every day, students in the first-grader’s class are required to leave their lunches outside the classroom, wash their hands before entering the room in the morning and after lunch and used to be required to rinse out their mouths after they ate.

The protesting parents said the time their children spend cleaning themselves to protect the other student cuts into their education time.

I’m shocked parents would object to their children taking a few minutes out of the school day to protect another child.

Some parents went as far as saying they wanted the girl removed from the classroom and homeschooled. They picketed with posters that read, “My child has rights, too,” and “How much academic time has your child lost?” Even worse were threats reportedly made to the girl by a parent who said he or she wanted to smear peanut butter on the girl’s locker.

Life is not just about science and math. These people are failing to see the valuable life skills their children are learning by washing thoroughly. It’s something they should be doing, especially to protect a fellow student—not to mention it’s the law.

If a student’s food allergy is so severe it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are protected under Title 34, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This is a national civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and is applied to all public schools. In cases of severe food allergies, schools will create a specific 504 Plan to protect the child.

Under Section 504, a school is required to make accommodations to protect a disabled student. In this case, Edgewater Elementary requires the other first-graders to wash their hands after they eat.

Rather than be empathetic and deal with special rules to protect the girl’s health, other parents just wanted her taken out of the school system. Everyone has the right to an education in this country, and parents were basically protesting this principle.

Picketing and threatening a disabled student due to the inconvenience it causes a healthy child is ridiculous. Elementary schools should be encouraging students to take the time to wash their hands.

How would these parents feel if their child had a life-threatening allergy? Where is the love and compassion? I am deeply saddened so many parents protested the protection of this first-grader’s life.

Despite the protests, the elementary school is standing by its decision to accommodate the student. The protesting parents need to step back, look at the big picture and be grateful their healthy children need to only wash their hands a few minutes a day and can eat all the peanut butter they want after school without worrying about fatal consequences.

As of April 11, the Illinois School Access to Emergency Epinephrine act was passed by Illinois House. The bill, which now goes to the senate, would allow schools to administer epinephrine to students who have an allergic reaction. In other words, children who go into anaphylactic shock due to a food or drug allergy and may have forgotten their auto-injectors at home could be saved by school administration with this new legislation.

The bill outlines who can administer the auto-injector, under what circumstances and outlines training requirements. In a world where there are growing numbers of children with severe allergies, this bill could potentially save many lives.