In September, a Northern California school banned all peanut products from a kindergarten where a child with a peanut allergy is enrolled.
Administrators at Valle Verde Elementary School in Walnut Creek, California, went as far as to hire a vocational nurse to go through students’ backpacks and lunch boxes searching for contraband food. The move outraged many parents who felt the school went too far with both the ban and its enforcement.
For many parents, particularly those raising vegetarian children, peanuts and peanut butter are an important source of protein. “I don’t know what we would do without it,” says vegetarian Jennifer Coughey, a stay-at-home mom with a three-year-old daughter. “I mean, there’s only so much tofu a kid can eat.”
Tran said she understands that sentiment. She spends a lot of time instructing her son about what peanuts and peanut butter looks like, as well as warning him not to take food from others. “Peanut butter is such a staple in people’s diet so my thought is that I need to educate my child to protect him,” she said.
Caughey said if her daughter ends up attending a school where peanuts are banned, she will adjust. “When you’re a vegetarian you sometimes stand out and people think you are just being difficult. They don’t understand how important it is to you,” she said. “So I don’t want to make things harder for someone who has a child who could actually die from eating something.”
Many public schools are now designating specific areas, for example a lunch table, for those with peanut allergies to avoid transferring small amounts of peanuts from one child to another or having a child inadvertently inhale traces of peanuts.
Tran’s son attends a parent-participation preschool with a “no-peanut” policy during times when there are children at the school with an allergy. The policy was enacted about three years ago.
“When we started becoming aware of how serious peanut allergies are, then we basically didn’t want to take any kind of chances,” Sandy Rending, director of the Davis (Calif.) Parent Nursery School said.
Rending said there has been little resistance to the policy from parents. “I think through just awareness and education the parents realize it’s for the sake of the child,” she said.
Rending said accidents are rare, but noted that the parent-participation aspect of her school means there are many adults around to prevent accidental ingestion and serious allergic reactions. “We couldn’t do this if there was just one teacher and 30 kids,” she said.