School grapples with peanut policy

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Parents of peanut allergic children spoke out, Aug. 18, during the West Liberty School Board meeting on Monday.

A policy is being considered regarding food allergies. Specifically it targets peanut and tree nut allergies and aims to make WLCSD more aware of the risks and put in place several rules regarding food.

"Just by making a few small changes it really can have an impact on their safety," said WL resident Jerra Garcia whose son, Noah, is severely allergic to peanuts. He'll be beginning school next year.

She spoke in support of the possible policy, stating that her son is an example of what can happen when severely allergic children come into direct contact with their allergy source.

"In his short life of four years and four months he's made five trips to the emergency room because of food allergies," she said. "Two of those were do to full blown anaphylactic reactions where epinephrine is the only thing that saved his life."

Also present was resident Crystal Wertzbaugher, mother of a current West Liberty middle school student with a severe peanut allergy. She spoke about when she and her husband first found out about his allergy and nearly lost him.

"Since then we have had to keep peanuts strictly away, I didn't even allow him to go to the grocery store for a very long time," she said.

Board member David Millage motioned that the school administration develop a policy draft that recognizes the seriousness of food allergies, specifically dealing with peanut allergy problems that can be addressed.

The motion passed and the WLCSD administration will work with the Wellness Committee and school nurse Julie Yoerger to put together a new policy, which will draw from the original policy brought before the board.

Yoerger proposed the first implementation of the policy during a July 21 meeting as a possible plan to address the growing concern of children with food allergies, especially peanuts and tree nuts.

She showed the board several possible changes to the school's current wellness policy. The first part was making sure students and faculty are aware, especially those involved in the cafeteria.

This includes ensuring faculty and teachers directly involved with a peanut allergic student are aware of his or her Individual Health Plan and emergency procedures.

The second was a series of rules to prevent allergic students from coming into contact with peanut or food that has been made in factories or stored in warehouses alongside peanuts.

The policy would prohibit parents from sending food or treats from home to class celebrations, though students will continue to be allowed to bring homemade lunches.

Nurse Yoerger clarified that the snack policy has to do more with wellness than anything else. It'll help prevent allergic reactions caused by more than just peanuts and tree nuts. It also promotes a healthier reward system for students in general.

Next, the possible policy would eliminate peanut/tree nut foods or food that has come into contact with peanuts/tree nuts from being served in the lunchrooms, and surfaces where peanut foods were eaten would be cleaned consistently.

As for seating in the lunchroom, the policy does not make peanut allergic students sit by themselves. Rather, it separates the lunch room into hot lunch tables and cold lunch tables.

Hot lunch tables are those for students who get food at school, since the school would already be serving peanut free food kids with peanut allergies would sit at the hot lunch tables.

Cold lunch tables, on the other hand, are available for students who bring in their own lunches.

"It is not the intent to seclude those cold lunch kids, they can pick a friend or two to sit with them at the lunch table as long as they are not peanut allergy kids," said Nurse Yoerger.

These preventative measures should limit the possibility of contact with food allergic children, but Nurse Yoerger, along with several parents, admits there is no such thing a completely free peanut zone.

She added that most of these proposed changes to the wellness policy were taken from the Dubuque school system.

The idea of becoming peanut aware is a growing trend in Iowa and the rest of the United States. This is the same stand Iowa's Department of Education is taking according to in the section about school nurses.

"Concern over peanuts in public places has led to some schools calling for peanut bans. However, bans, which can never be fully enforced, may lead to a false sense of security and put the child at greater risk," it says.

"There is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of this practice. A more effective solution is to educate students, schools, and food service professionals and set up a food allergy management plan."

Nurse Yoerger conducted a small poll of her own, asking 35 other school nurses how their schools are responding to peanut allergies. She shared her results with the board.

Her first question asked how many districts have a "no homemade snack can be brought to school" policy. She reported that 27 nurses responded they do not allow homemade treats while eight allow them.

She then asked how many districts have a peanut aware or allergy aware policy, of which 21 responded saying they have a peanut aware policy while nine have no polices. One has an allergy policy, one is in the middle of putting a policy together and three did not respond.

Finally, she asked about cold lunch tables, where she reported that 11 school districts have cold lunch tables, three have peanut free tables, ten have no table designations and eight did not specify.

She ended by clearing up why districts are focusing on peanut allergies more so than other types of allergies, acknowledging that milk and other allergies are also present in WLCSD.

"Peanut allergies have so many more things in them," she said. "For a peanut allergic reaction 50 to 62 percent end up with an anaphylactic shock, which results in a near death or even death in that situation. For a tree nut allergy it’s 15 to 30 percent."

She was stating facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the same source that indicates allergies, not just peanut allergies, are on the rise.

"I don't want to be one of the last districts to get on board when it comes to a peanut aware policy," she later told the Index. However, she also wanted to clarify: other allergies are just as important and should be taken into consideration as well.
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