The issue of food allergies in middle school and high school is an important, complicated one for parents and schools to keep in mind. It would be helpful if other community members–parents like Main Line Housewife and high-profile authors like Lenore Skenazy (writing here for Reason Magazine)–would become better educated on the topic and less prone to criticizing educators for trying to protect students.
Although young people may know what to ask about foods–and may have practiced for years to avoid a known allergen, they may in puberty experience anxiety, peer pressure, bullying, and a false sense of adolescent confidence that they “know” a food is safe.
This can be dangerous.
Also risky are the blanket assumptions people make about food. Let’s take the case of the photo (above) making its way around the Internet. An “Oreo” may be the kind with which we grew up–or it may be a generic brand. Different manufacturers use different processes, and cross-contamination in one facility baking the “same” cookie can make a familiar food fatal for a severely allergic child. For these reasons, it’s vital to keep in mind that an “Oreo” may mean one thing to one person and something else to another.
There are other questions, too: Who unwrapped the cookie? Did it sit in a bowl that held peanuts or another allergen? Did the person who distributed the food wash her hands and use gloves?
Obtaining answers for these questions in a school setting demands that a child be willing and capable of asserting herself with teachers and peers. If these same people shamed her for speaking up in the past–or mocked her for her disability, then she may be reluctant to be thorough in her inquiry. If she has a comorbid disability (including ASD) that prevents her from articulating her needs, then she’s at even greater risk.
Want further proof that older kids are it risk of being injured or killed form food allergies? Take a look at deaths from food allergies in recent years. You’ll find many of the kids are preteens and teens who “thought” it would be okay to just take a bite like everyone else.
Sorry, Internet, but there’s nothing “insane” about trying to protect young people by engaging their parents via a slip of paper. In fact, it’s an incredibly compassionate and responsible thing to do. (P.S. It’s also educational for all parties.)
And just think: all it may require of you personally is to read and sign a permission slip.
Pamela Price is a Texas-based blogger and author. She also homeschools a food-allergic child. Her second book, on bullying and gifted kids, is due from GHF Press in 2015. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.
This post is dedicated to the many kind, loving parents and educators who willingly make simple adjustments and gracious announcements with forethought for the safety of all students, including those with food allergens.