A new school year is about to begin here, so I am in full advocacy mode again! Here's a follow up to the peanut issues from spring:
Dear Superintendent Brown,
In the spring, Mr. E forwarded a message we sent regarding an incident with a peanut butter sandwich on the bus. I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to follow up then (I spent several weeks of the summer in China and Japan and got a bit behind on my “to do” list), but I am writing now as we are set to begin a new school year.
Our daughter Pink has a life-threatening peanut allergy, which we have managed by teaching her self-advocacy and how to interact safely with her peers when food is involved. She is aware of her allergies and proactive in protecting herself.
What we can’t control, unfortunately, is the behavior of other students. The incident on the bus on at the end of the spring semester highlights for us just how unsafe the world beyond the walls of our house and of her peanut-free classroom can be. As if to punctuate this for us, the day after the incident on the bus, when the topic of peanut allergies came up at a club meeting, one of our older son’s classmates laughingly told me how “a bunch of kids at our school rub peanut butter in the faces of the kids with peanut allergies.”
I know it will sound like an exaggeration, but when Pink faces a child who has peanuts or peanut butter, it’s akin to her encountering someone who is wielding a knife. The risks of injury and/or death are no different between the two. As her parents, we understand that our goal is to teach her to be safe and to live her life without fear (to the greatest extent possible), but we also believe it is extremely important to educate others about the real risks of severe nut allergies. Children of all ages need to understand just how dangerous something seemingly innocuous like peanut butter can be for their friends.
We understand that this is an "allergen aware" district. We also understand the logistical challenges to becoming a peanut-free district. Our hope is that serious discussion would happen around the pros and cons of going peanut-free, particularly with thoughts about free and appropriate public education in mind. If the district won’t or can’t go peanut- free, we hope there will be sincere discussion (and hopefully then action) in the area of student education and awareness. We ask that concentrated effort be paid toward educating students in all buildings about the risks of allergies and the importance of promoting safety and respect. We also ask that that school-provided lunches and snacks be free of peanuts. In particular, we ask that lunches provided for field trips NOT be peanut butter sandwiches. Pink describes field trips as being extremely scary and her teachers these past two years agree that the entire experience is nerve-wracking for them as well. Because Pink's peanut allergy seems to have worsened, her allergist is suggesting that perhaps she should no longer attend the school field trips. With plenty of alternative sandwich options (sunbutter, wowbutter, ham, cheese, jelly, and, in the case there are no children with severe tree nut allergies, also almond butter and cashew butter), we sincerely hope the district is able to move toward a different alternative for the sack lunches provided on field trips, so that we won’t have to decide between keeping Pink safe and sending her to school so she can enjoy the same learning experiences as her classmates.
Though Pink's allergies don’t impact her ability to make friends and perform well academically, they do cause her to experience fear and alienation when at school. We will continue to teach her to self-advocate, but we ask for your help in educating other students and in making the school environment one that feels like a safe and welcoming space for all students.
Moe and Ren