Schools, camps, and day-care centers are stuggling to manage the increasing number of food allergies in the classroom. Different schools have come up with different solutions, ranging from completely banning peanuts from a school campus to making individual decisions about each child with food allergies. Some of the most common stragegies for managing food allergies at school, and their pros and cons, are:
Peanut- and Nut-Free Classroom or School
Some schools have chosen to completely ban peanuts or nuts from the classroom or school.
Pro: Completely removing peanuts, which can cause severe allergic reactions, can bring peace of mind to parents of peanut-allergic children.
Cons: There are several problems with this strategy:
- A peanut ban may create a false sense of security. It is impossible to completely remove the chance of peanut or nut cross-contamination from foods children bring from home, so there is always a chance of some peanut protein slipping into the school environment.
- Peanuts are only one potential allergen. More children are allergic to milk than peanuts, and banning peanuts from a school does nothing to protect children with other allergies.
- Other children may feel deprived. A sustainable solution to food allergy management is one that everyone feels is fair. If children or parents resent the peanut ban, they may sneak peanuts into lunches or bully the child with food allergies.
Peanut-Free Lunch Tables
Pros: Peanut-free lunch tables are a compromise between banning peanuts completely and allowing peanuts everywhere. It physically separates children with peanut allergies from children who may be (messily) eating peanut butter sandwiches. If there are enough children in the school with peanut allergies, the peanut-free table could become an informal support group.
Cons: Children with food allergies who are sitting at the designated table may feel socially isolated. As with peanut bans, peanut-free lunch tables don't address the problems of children with other common food allergies, such as dairy, soy, wheat, or eggs.
Increased Hand Washing and School Cleaning
Pro: Increased hand and surface washing may help reduce the spread of germs around the school as well as potential allergens.
Con: Time spent on hygiene may take away time from the classroom, although the amount of time spent is minimal if children have access to sinks.
Case-by-Case Decision Making
Pro: Case-by-case decision making can allow for the flexibility to design a safe environment that meets each child's needs. Not all allergies are so severe that they require banning a food from a classroom.
For example, even though my daughter is severely allergic to soy, she sits at the same snack table with a child who is lactose intolerant and uses soy margarine on her bread. Neither child has had a reaction, and since the teacher is aware of all of the food sensitivities in the class, she usually seats the two children a few seats away from each other.
Con: Having to make a separate decision for each child with food allergies is time-consuming, and there may be a perception of unfairness if two children are treated differently.Share Your Story: How does your child's school manage food allergies in the classroom? How well is it working?