Until recently, students in an Edgewater, Fla., elementary school were required to rinse their mouths out twice daily at school to avoid spreading peanut residue to a first-grade student with a severe peanut allergy.
Teachers had to monitor the mouth rinsing and frequent hand washing, and ensure surfaces were continually swabbed with Clorox. The school banned all peanut products, eliminated snacks in the classroom and forbade outside food at holiday parties. A peanut-sniffing dog patrolled the school halls.
All this proved too much for parents, who said the requirements went too far. The battle culminated last Thursday when parents stormed the school, holding up picket signs that read "Our Kids Have Rights Too!"
Most situations don't boil over into angry confrontations as they did in Florida, but changing school policies to accommodate children with allergies is definitely becoming a bone of contention in many school districts.
Anita Lavine, a mother of two in Seattle, emphasized that she did not wish to be insensitive and was aware that exposure to an allergen could have serious consequences for a child but admitted she resented the extra hassle of the new policies at times.
At one point, her children's school warned her against bringing in anything with eggs to her daughter's classroom, and anything with peanuts to her son's.
"You don't want to be careless and make another child sick, but you really had to stop and think every day what was OK and where it was OK," said Lavine.
Lavine wondered why there couldn't be a better balance between the needs of a few and the enjoyment of many. "You mean you can't have a single egg in the entire school? Really?" she asked.
Other parents complained that allergy-aware policies created extra expense, forcing them to buy pricier foods. Soy butter and sunflower butter, two peanut butter alternatives, can cost up to twice as much as the real thing.
In one school district, the hostility reached a boiling point when the family of a peanut-allergic child was spotted at the local Walmart bakery that used peanut oil. People began to openly question the necessity of a ban on a favorite low-cost food to oblige the one child.
No one doubts that food allergy-aware policies can be lifesavers for children who depend on them. Aimee Kandrac, whose son Elliot has several severe food allergies, said she does not like inconveniencing other families but without her vigiliance her son could wind up in the hospital, or worse. Her son's school has been generally responsive to his needs, and most of the other parents have been understanding.
But not all.
"This past Valentine's Day another parent called me up to complain that my son had ruined her child's day because the kids weren't allowed to bring candy into school because of him," she recalled. "I politely thanked her for her call and suggested her daughter could enjoy her candy after school. It was all I could do not to hang up the phone on her."
Kendrac said she tried not to come off as an overprotective, hysterical mom but worried that her son might feel ostracized because of his allergies. He was sometimes excluded from birthday parties, because as a friend privately confided, other parents didn't feel like dealing with his food issues.