Education Isn't a Special Right

One of the biggest worries for parents of food allergic children is preventing a potentially life threatening reaction at school. Sometimes the steps a school takes to create a safe environment for our kids lead to controversy, especially peanut bans.

Recently a blogger wrote an inflammatory post titled "12 Reasons Why Peanut Free Schools Are Not Okay." (I'm not going to link to anyone who argues that accommodating the "special needs" of another child "sends a terrible message to normal and healthy children." Google it if you must.) It was widely shared on Facebook and the comments responding to it resembled a pro wrestling match refereed by Jerry Springer.

This type of outrage bait pops up pretty regularly, and the writers always use the same tired set of food allergy tropes. In the hope of spreading more light and less heat, here is my own list in response. Please feel free to use it the next time you're fighting the urge to chuck a virtual chair at someone's head.

1. "What about my child's rights?"

Welcome to the false equivalency, in which a parent magically creates a "right to feed my child peanut butter" to counter the food allergic child's actual, federally mandated right to receive a public education.

Whether the accommodation in question is restricting foods or requiring hand washing, the purpose is to make it possible for the child to attend school safely, just as accommodations are made for children with other disabilities.

Protesting a peanut ban is like complaining that your child is forced to walk around a wheelchair ramp or that a diabetic child is allowed to eat a snack at a time your child can't.

2. "Your kid should be responsible for managing their own allergies."

This is the argument of the pseudo Darwinist, who will tell you that the world won't adapt to your child. So stop the coddling and teach your kid to suck it up, because life isn't fair.

Guess what? Adults don't have someone to hold their hands and carefully guide them across the street when the light turns green, but that doesn't mean we allow toddlers out into traffic to fend for themselves.

Young children have almost no sense of personal space or personal hygiene. They indiscriminately touch (and often taste) each other and everything around them. Peanut and tree nut bans are sometimes the only practical way to manage these food allergies in preschool, kindergarten, and lower grade levels.

3. "What about kids with other food allergies?"

Don't mistake this supposed concern for other children as anything other than the classic slippery slope. If the school bans peanuts today, it will ban milk and strawberries tomorrow! Soon our children will only be allowed to have water!

There are too many tragic reasons for school policies specific to peanuts. In the last few years, peanuts have overtaken milk as the most common food allergy. They are responsible for over half of the approximately 30,000 emergency room visits and 200 deaths caused by food allergies each year in the United States, all of which are preventable.

4. "Why don't you just homeschool?"

Because I don't want to. Please refer back to my child's right to a public education.

5. "What about kids who will only eat peanut butter?"

If your child is fixated on the creamy goodness of PB & J to the exclusion of all other foods, let me introduce you to the world of peanut butter alternatives. There are spreads made from soy beans, pea protein, tree nuts, and various seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin.

6. "Peanut butter is an inexpensive protein. What about parents on a tight budget?"

Peanut bans at school do not prevent parents from feeding their child the most economical option at home. For families struggling to buy groceries, free and reduced price lunches are available through the National School Lunch Program. Many school districts will allow you to apply for them online through ApplyForLunch.com.

The good news is that although I frequently encounter disregard for my child's life on the internet, I have personally been met with almost nothing but kindness from other parents in real life. A few years ago one mother told me how her child requested that she stop making him peanut butter sandwiches to help keep my son safe. I almost burst into tears.

Food allergies bring overwhelming stress to the families living with them. Perhaps they are also teaching compassion to the generation of children growing up with our food allergy kids, despite the parents who do not choose to practice it themselves.


Kathryn @ Mamacado said...

Thanks for writing such a TRUE and ELOQUENT post Libby. Totally agree of course!!

Margot @ Coffee & Vanilla said...

I agree in 100%. Peanut allergy can be very severe and with little children there is no other way but to ban in completely at schools. Children touch everything, don't wash hands properly, even play with each others lunches...
Our school is great, the nuts has been always banned but since my daughter is in school there is picture of her and note about her EPI pen in all possible places so even new teachers are aware. Other kids are also very sensible and whenever they bring something to school (birthday cakes) they make sure there is no peanuts in them so Ella can try it... they are very sweet.