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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Desert Peanut 'War'?

I read an interesting article today about how a parent lobby in Arizona is trying to establish strict and consistent guidelines for managing peanut allergy in state school districts. Though the overall goal is consistent with measures in place in several Canadian school districts, I think this might be an example (at the risk of being a naive outside observer) of an aggressive force meeting with an equally strong and opposite reaction.

The fact that the article deems this a case of parents being ready to 'wage war' is unfortunate , though the overall article is quite well written.

Am I naively optimistic to think that a campaign of education and 'gentle' negotiation needs to accompany this legislation? The legislation will ensure consistency but there needs to be a program wrapped around it to support the teachers and the schools - something similar to the excellent Safe4Kids program of Anaphylaxis Canada. Somehow this contentious debate is now proposed legislation without the agreement of all stakeholders - not to imply that would be easy or even possible.

The fact remains that new legislation asa result of parents winning a 'war' will do little to secure the buy-in of schools. It might actually result in non-peanut parents and teachers resenting the ruling which would be unfortunate.

I have emailed the author to ask if she knows the background - how did things get to this point? I am only going on what I read in one article and would happily stand corrected.

Article excerpt below ... full article here.

Food allergies no small potatoes to schools
East Valley
By Andrea Falkenhagen

A stuffy committee room at the State Capitol got a spark of life as its back rows filled with parents and toddlers. Among the black suits, leather folders and the buzzing of BlackBerries were sippy cups, gurgling babies and a lavender My Little Pony. These mothers were in it for the long haul, waiting to wage war over something they say threatens their children’s lives — peanuts.

“We hear about kids being chased with peanut butter sandwiches on the playground and teachers being inconsiderate to children who have life-threatening allergies,” said Chandler mom Jeannine Markandeya.

“We’re not talking about, (a child) gets a rash when she eats strawberries. We’re talking, if she eats the peanut, she’s dead.”

Markandeya is a founder of the Phoenix Allergy Network — a group of Valley parents lobbying in full force to get state lawmakers to take on the issue of how schools respond to food allergies in children.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler, would require school districts and charter schools to develop guidelines for managing severe food allergies, as well as training for teachers and principals to administer through a needle a small shot of epinephrine that can reverse a life-threatening reaction. Districts that do not comply could see up to 10 percent of their state funding withheld.

Several high-profile education groups oppose the measure, saying it carries too many obligations for school staff.


The Cookbook Junkie said...

Just because a group joins together to develop a consistent policy doesn't mean it is aggressive. I don't quite see the 'war' mentality you see here. I also don't see anything that indicates that allergy education would not be involved in this legislation (you have to educate for any allergy policies to work).

I've seen so many instances reported where parents try the gentle, individual approach and it doesn't work. A strong, statewide policy would save parents a lot of individual, redundant work and also make the situation less personal (your child will be less likely to be singled out if you personally did not have to force the school to establish a policy that some parents may not like.)

Schools should appreciate this too as almost every parent of a peanut allergic child I come across online has a different comfort zone and I think it would help to establish a policy that everyone can live with. What if a parent with a very loose comfort zone came before you at your child's school? You would end up fighting against that precedent from the get-go.

Believe me, I don't go for the aggressive approach myself yet I also find it a huge responsibility to personally have to manage this allergy for my child. My son's daycare was peanut-free before our diagnosis. They already had epi-pen training and reviewed their training DVD when he was dx'd. They didn't seem fazed the least bit. I felt safe. Months later I discovered the epi-pens were being stored in the refrigerator with other meds!

NoPeanuts said...

I actually agree with you. I was picking up on the fact that the author said that the parents were heading to the state capital to 'wage war' and I suspect that she was sensationalizing the reality of the situation.

I have contacted Jeannine from the Phoenix Allergy Network and asked a series of questions. I will post the responses.

I also added a link to their site from the NoPeanuts homepage.

Your work with the daycare provider is commendable! Though they had their initial training, EpiPens, etc. it is important to continually check in with them to make sure that they are still following the correct practices and that EpiPens are not out of date (or in the freezer!) It also sounds as though you do this in a collaborative manner. Nice work.

... and thank you for your comments!