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Monday, December 10, 2007

Is This A Human Rights Violation?

A very interesting story is emerging in Toronto. Human rights expert Maurice Brenner is supporting six children, aged 6-11, in bringing a human rights complaint against their school and its school board as a result of food allergy policy.

For the past six years St. Stephen Catholic Elementary School, in Woodbridge ON, has had a program aimed at making schools safer for children with severe food allergies. To augment the provisions of Sabrina's Law, which enacted formal policy to protect school children with anaphylaxis, St. Stephen required parents to list the ingredients of school lunches and required teachers perform a quick daily inspection of lunches.

The policy was appreciated by parents of children with severe food allergy, but has been canceled due to a need to conform with other provincial schools who do not have similar policies.

Chris Cable, spokesperson for the York Catholic District School Board, said that while the "Ontario Human Rights Code requires schools to accommodate children with disabilities, 'it makes no mention of daily inspections of children's lunches by school staff, nor does Human Rights require parents to send in notes with each lunch and snack to describe the ingredients.'" Cable added that schools in the district already comply with Sabrina's law and school board staff are trained twice a year to recognize anaphylactic shock and use an EpiPen.

Sabrina's Law sets reasonable minimum standards for anaphylaxis preparedness and the York schools appear to be in compliance. Though the heightened ingredient monitoring was well-intended, it did not align with other schools in the district and would certainly not have provided 100% safety for allergic children.

As I have written many times before, even the most well intended attempts to prevent food allergen exposure will not succeed 100% of the time. A quick surface inspection of lunches by a teacher would catch an obvious offender such as a peanut butter sandwich, but it would not likely catch something that contains a more obscure allergen, for example a sandwich that mistakenly contains real mayo (Daddy used the wrong jar) but the student honestly thinks thinks it is egg-free mayo.

The bottom line is that awareness and emergency preparedness are just as important as pure prevention.

While I share the fear that St. Stephen's parents have in sending their food allergic children to school, I am not convinced that there is a human rights violation in Woodbridge.

(Note: there is a follow-up to this post.)


Mom said...

Hold on a second, the OHRC sees allergies as a disability allowing those who suffer accomodations. These kids were given accomodations which were stripped once administration changed. Accomodations follow the disabled NOT THE PRINCIPAL. This is a violation. Teachers walking around during snack/lunch monitoring to make sure there are no allergens that can kill seems not only reasonable but a good use of common sense. Adults must be in charge NOT point in having rules if NO ONE is enforcing them. YCDSB should be ashamed that their using tax dollars to fight 6 kids brave enough to defend their rights as CANADIANS.

NoPeanuts said...

I absolutely see your point re: allergies being a disability and my only question is whether Sabrina's Law provides adequate protection already. It seems to me that it might?

I also understand the (apparent) value of the lunch checks but my concern as a parent of an allergic child is that they would not likely be very effective. They might actually create a false sense of security for many parents.

For my benefit, it would be helpful to learn of specific examples where the school lunch checks were successful in finding lunches that were outside of policy. Was this common?

My aim here is to understand the issue in more detail. I appreciate your comment.