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Allergy Policy: When Balance is Elusive

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From what she explained, there would be no good reason for the snacks and the note to have been sent home to this mother, who is most definitely vigilant about her kids bringing safe foods to school (though strangely not so nutritious, given her profession. Just saying).

My inner bitch is rising. All my hard work to form what I thought was a strong, reasonable catch-bees-with-honey kind of policy, and this mother who’s been on side for years is turning on a dime. But I can’t really blame her. She takes care to ensure the safety of a few allergic kids ­– none of whom are even in her kids’ classes – then gets reprimanded with no real explanation.

I’m guessing there’s some confusion among the staff, which may be a result of changes at the school this year. There have been many, including a new principal, who is also new to being a principal and new to penning allergy policies. Although he’s been amazingly cooperative, I’m suspecting he may have missed a large point, and maybe went overboard in an effort to adhere to his interpretation of Sabrina’s Law (Ontario’s precedent-setting school allergy legislation).

What I know, and he may not, is that we still must tread lightly on the allergy issue, despite the law. We still have to appeal to the hearts of the non-allergics. In our efforts to keep our allergic students safe, we cannot make people feel that their rights are being trampled on or that their good intentions are for nothing.

Sure, I can’t help but dream of a day when bringing nuts to school is as crude (and eventually as illegal) as smoking in the playground. But for now, pushing the sensitivity and community responsibility card seems to make more sense. I think.

Turns out, new principal had no idea who sent the note and why, but he also wasn’t immediately clear on what upset me so much about the situation.

Meantime, we’ve put out some new FAQs and answers to help the school community better understand our policies, which are far less restrictive than some other schools, and may even be a bit compromising to the comfort level of some of our own allergy parents.

But who could argue against a policy that promotes sensitivity, vigilance, community and responsibility, while only asking others to refrain from sending foods that can cause life-threatening harm to our anaphylactic students?  That is, just the food that definitely contains – in our school’s case – peanuts and tree nuts. It’s so much more disarming and on target than saying: “No nuts and no food that may contain them,” (which is an exclusionary policy at best and one that would be nearly impossible to police any way).

Still, I’m partly second-guessing myself. In my efforts to help design an enlightened policy that aims to preclude allergy backlash, did we leave too much up for interpretation? Is restricting parents to only sending foods that are clearly labeled peanut- or nut-free – void of ‘may contains’ and the like – essential to our pursuit of consistent allergy safety at school? Is one way more set up for failure than the other?

Maybe I’ve lost my allergy edge, but with a no-sharing policy in effect coupled with years of setting an example for my now 9-year-old son, promoting a zero-tolerance approach still feels more like catching bees with a herd of blind elephants.



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