Directions: The link below is a blog post discussing the Florida parent protests against procedures put in place to protect a child with a life threatening peanut allergy. Please read it and then be prepared to join us in considering some ways to respond to this situation or a similar situation that you may face with a child who has special dietary needs.
Here are some initial responses and our attempts to sort them out.
1. This isn't fair! Why do people have SUCH a hard time understanding food allergies?
2. It's not fair to the other kids in the class? How about life being fair for the kid with the allergy?
3. Why is it so hard for people to accommodate people with food allergies or any special dietary need for that matter? It's JUST food! Have you taken notice of our obesity epidemic?
4. Since when is school focused around food? I didn't know learning math or reading skills required peanut butter!
5. Why must a parent of a child with food allergies need to fight so much for the safety of their child?
6. How can people be so mean and so hurtful?
7. Do you think a parent asks for their child to have food allergies?
8. Boy, do I feel good about homeschooling my kids!
In addition to our emotional response and outrage, we want to keep thinking about this and try to come up with more rational responses. This situation is completely wrong, but the first priority must always be keeping your child safe. The question is: if this happened to your child, what would be the best way to respond?
A few thoughts (and a quick disclaimer first)
Disclaimer: we do not know the entire story. We don't know how the school has responded to this- Have any statements been issued? Any efforts made to educate the parents and children? That might provide answers to some of our thoughts below:
1. The parents of the little girl with the peanut allergy clearly have legal rights here. They pulled her from school apparently due to threats made by other parents, but they have every right to keep that kid in her school. That said, safety has to come first, so their actions are understandable.
2. The cause to stay in school is important, because it would definitely set a bad precedent for other kids in other school districts if no one stands up and fights. The burden would seem to be on the school to: provide this kid with the services in her educational plan, provide safety for each and every student, and protect the confidential educational and health information of each student from being leaked to the public. If the school district is negligent in this regard, legal action could easily be pursued and a pretty strong case could be made that they are not doing this.
3. On a public policy level, it would be interesting to see if any steam could be gathered behind some legislation that would treat someone who harms or threatens to harm someone with a life-threatening allergy as a hate crime or something to that effect. I would hate to think that someone would have to be hurt in order for something to happen, but unfortunately, that seems to be the only way something like this gets done.
4. The parents of the other first graders have the right to protest things that they think are violating their children's rights to adequate education. However, wouldn't it serve everyone best if the school hosted a public forum about this issue, to educate about the real dangers of food allergies? They could invite one or more allergy experts to talk about the reality of the threat of peanuts to this little girl, and open up the floor for questions. A little awareness and understanding never hurts in a situation like this. Also, it would be of interest to find out if these parents voiced their concerns to faculty and administrators within the school before the protests. What was the school's response?
5. It might be helpful to publicize stories of school districts or individual classrooms in which reasonable accommodations to protect a student have been made successfully, to illustrate that this can be done, and no one would really miss out on anything. In fact, isn't there potential for a lot to be gained in a classroom in which tolerance and understanding are practiced on a daily basis?
What do you think? Are you familiar with any "success stories" that are comparable to this situation? How would you deal with the type of opposition that these folks face in Florida?