When I say I don’t get the resistance to a ban on peanuts in schools with allergic students, this is the reason: Food allergy sickens teen. Here we have a student who is known to the school to have a severe nut allergy and her teacher chooses to use peanuts as the item the science class will measure and study, instead of the plethora of other items that might have worked instead (seeds, beans, peas, etc). The teacher’s work-around for the student’s allergy was to have her miss the lesson (hmmm… educational priorities?). And then it backfired when the peanuts were left exposed in the room overnight so that, when the student went into the classroom the next day and breathed the air, her allergy attacked and she ended up in hospital for two days and on steroids for a week in order to stay alive.
When I was in school, chewing gum was banned because it was inconvenient to clean up off the desks and floor. Walkmans were banned because they were distracting to students. These days, there are restrictions on mobile phones and and GameBoys and iPods. There have always been changing rules about how students are allowed to dress, depending on what is perceived to be a fashion-shock too far at that particular time. All of these restrictions garner some resistance, but they are usually accepted eventually and just become part of the established norms of going to school. And yet, none of these things have anything like the gravitas of being able to actually kill one of the children attending the school.
I have never advocated a blanket ban on peanuts in all schools. But, ever since this became an important issue to me, I have always said that I think it is reasonable to look at each situation on a case-by-case basis and, where there is a student with a severe allergy, to ban that substance if it is reasonably possible to do and such a ban would provide a reasonable return (in terms of safety) for the effort. By “reasonably possible”, I mean that the food is relatively easy to eliminate — for instance, peanuts, which are used in a limited number of foods, are much less troublesome to ban than soy or milk, which are used in a great number of staple foods. And by “reasonable return”, I mean that the school has to weigh up the impact that ban would make in improving the safety of the allergic student — a child with a life-threatening allergy would benefit much more from a ban than a child with a milder (stomach-upsetting) allergy. So, I have always supported looking at each individual case and the school taking both these elements (as well as a third: the child’s age) into account before making a reasoned decision on whether to implement a ban during the time that child is a student at the school.
I know that any ban will never be a guarantee of safety for an allergic kid — and I doubt any allergy-parent, after years of learning the hard way how to deal with such a dangerous condition, would ever be naive enough to think it would — but it would go a long way to reducing the risk. It’s a simple numbers game: the fewer foods containing the allergen that are around, the less chance there is that the allergic child will come into contact with it. And the danger is not just in the eating, as that news story clearly shows. Even if that student had not been so allergic that the peanut-fumes alone could send her into attack, it would appear there was no thought given to the possibility of contact-reactions. With that many peanuts in the room, surely one or two would end up on floor, and the peanut dust would have been spread to hands and desks and books and doorknobs. When there is a child with severe allergies, taking drastic steps such as implementing a ban affords the allergic student more than just the obvious benefit of proscribing their allergen, it also focuses minds — in a way that that clearly hadn’t happened here.
Yes, a blanket ban of peanuts in all schools would be a crazy over-reaction. And yes, banning peanuts with no consideration of other allergens is short-sighted and unfair. But I do believe that bans, when individually assessed to be both reasonably practical and effective for each particular case, can be a very good thing. And the on-going and vehement resistance to something so beneficial and reasonable confounds me. There are a lot of people who are very vocal about their conviction that peanuts (or other allergens) should never be banned, ever, no matter how dangerous they may be to one of the children in school. There are a lot of people who feel it is better for that child to be segregated at lunch, miss lessons and fieldtrips, and bear the responsibility of fully managing a life-threatening condition — even at the tender age of only six or seven — rather than have anyone else be inconvenienced by a ban. If anyone can tell me how it is reasonable for schools to ban gum because it is messy, iPods because they are disruptive, and crop-tops because they are distracting, but not peanuts because they are deadly to one of the students, I am all ears.