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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Criminal Charges in Kentucky

Just this week I blogged about progress in anaphylaxis and food allergy legislation. These policies and guidelines endeavour to protect allergic children in the school environment, by implementing allergen avoidance measures and emergency protocols, should an exposure occur.

What we forget is that these guidelines serve to augment criminal laws that are already in place. This week a 13 year old boy in Kentucky was charged with felony wanton endangerment, after she sprinkled crumbled peanut butter cookies in the lunch box of another student with a severe allergy to peanuts. Thankfully the other child did not suffer a reaction.

What was this kid thinking? I know she is only 13, but as the parent of the allergic child this would be terrifying. Actually, as the parent of this 13 year old you might be even more terrified.

There were no prior issues between the two kids, so we have to assume that the 13 year old did not want to kill the other student. Based on that assumption, we only have one plausible scenario: that the girl simply did not take the allergy seriously. I am hoping that this was a prank or an experiment, as the kid in question did not truly believe he would cause serious harm. Perhaps it was on a dare?

(Note: subsequent to writing this post initially, one report indicated that the girl sprinkled the cookie in the allergic child's lunch 'to see what would happen'.)

The bottom line is that this is an extreme example of food allergy or anaphylaxis not being taken seriously. I actually empathize with people struggling to comprehend the severity of the disorder. Anaphylaxis is truly bizarre in that 99.9% of the time allergic children are perfectly healthy, notwithstanding unrelated health issues. I've had people say to me, "surely it is not possible for a peanut to kill a child within 15 minutes ... that's ridiculous!" I might not believe it myself, had I not witnessed our daughter's near fatal reaction on Boxing Day 2006.

Clearly there is work to be done in order to help the community understand that anaphylaxis and food allergy are a very real concern. The only benefit of this one student getting into trouble is that she can be made into an example for others.

If you are the parent of an allergic child, don't be angry at this kid. Instead, try to understand that anaphylaxis awareness is still not ubiquitous. Your own child would benefit if you leveraged this example in your community, so that others may learn from it.

A death in this situation would have been devastating to the entire school population, not just the family of the allergic child. One positive outcome is that the school district and the police recognized the gravity of the situation and took strong action. There are actually two classes of wanton endangerment, one a misdemeanour and one a felony.

The fact that the police charged the girl with the felony charge speaks volumes about just how serious they perceived this act to be. The misdemeanour charge applies if the accused places another person in danger of physical injury. The felony charge requires "extreme indifference to the value of human life" and a "substantial danger of death or serious physical injury".

Whether or not the child is found guilty, there is a silver lining to this unfortunate situation. The decision of the police to press this greater charge shows that they truly get it. This should also send a strong message to schoolyard bullies who tease children by chasing them with peanuts. This case sets a precedent and sends a clear message that similar actions will not be tolerated - not by schools, and not by the police.

I actually hope that the girl in question is shown leniency. A clear message has already been sent and I suspect she has learned her lesson. Perhaps a suitable punishment would be to have her perform community service. If she was to speak to schools, teachers and other students via a short educational video, they too would learn from this situation.

(Note: my initial source indicated that the accused was a boy. Subsequent reports have indicated that the accused is actually a girl. I have edited the text.)

1 comment:

lovelylinguist said...

As a mother of a peanut/pecan-allergic 2.5 yr old, my initial thought was, "Ream this kid!" As an educator, I realize that kids do just plain stupid things due to the immaturity of their brains and lack of experience. I hope that she's not some psychopath, but just another annoying middle schooler who is trying to find their way in the world. This girl will, hopefully, take A LOT away from this experience. And, as stated, I hope school administrators know about this case and take it to heart - zero tolerance for bullying!