Last week I saw down with the superintendent, the principal, the school nurse, another mom of a child with a peanut allergy, a mom of a child with Celiac’s Disease, a mom of child without any food allergies but supports a nut free school, and an attorney that the school had brought along for our first ever Food Allergy Committee meeting. I gotta tell ya, my heart sunk when I saw the attorney, thinking this is not going to go smoothly.
The meeting lasted nearly two hours and we covered a lot of ground and I do feel like we’re moving in the right direction, albeit not as swiftly as I had hoped. I was happy that the attorney shared with us that she too is a mom and her best friend’s son has a peanut allergy, so she could understand our concerns and why we were meeting. We agreed that education was very important, and they gave us permission to have a food allergy awareness table at Open House. I’ve forwarded them links to buy or download signs to put up around school for Food Allergy Awareness Week. I told them I have found someone who is willing to come to our school to do an educational presentation on food allergies, which the nurse said maybe she could do her presentation when she does her yearly Epi-Pen training for the staff for the beginning of next year. I wish it could happen tomorrow, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.
We talked about the definition of a nut-free classroom, as that is what is stated in Stella’s 504 plan. I had asked them to be specific because I had a different interpretation of what it meant. I originally thought that a nut-free classroom meant that no child in that class would be allowed to bring nuts or nut butters to school. Their definition is that no nuts are to be allowed in the classroom for activities, celebrations or to eat, but students in that classroom can bring it in their lunch. Since their backpacks are hung outside on hooks, food doesn’t enter the classroom.
Except on rainy days. You know, because rain washes away the risk of a peanut allergy.
I should clarify- they didn’t say that, but that has exactly been happening on rainy days. Kids are eating their snacks inside the classroom and the teacher asks them to wash their hands, but Stella and two of her friends have all confirmed that the teacher asks them to do it, but no one ever has. Oh, and I should also mention- the teacher also eats nuts in the classroom. I found this out the day before the meeting when Stella told me on the way to school. After picking my jaw up off the floor of my car, I asked her how she knew it was nuts. Surely, she must have been mistaken.
I shared this with them, and they said they would address it with her teacher. And I gotta say, this is really hard for me. Stella is good friends with her teacher’s daughter (they are both in the first grade and were in the same class last year), and her teacher shares a lot of my same mama friends I’ve made at the school. I hate feeling like I have to call someone out- not my style, but that has been something I’ve had to learn to do this year. I have to hold people accountable and that is a very hard thing to do and I can’t say it gets any easier.
It was decided that snack time on rainy days would either be held in the lunchroom where Stella would sit at her nut-free table, or a nut-only table be made inside the classroom that could be washed down after. I’m unsure what was decided on (there was a lot of stuff to take in), but I spoke up that you can’t call it a nut free classroom if there are nuts being allowed inside. I said that I felt our 504 plan had been violated. The superintendent made mention that they would have to change the wording in our 504 plan stating that the classroom is nut safe rather than nut free.
Wait, what??? In all honesty, the way he said it coupled with their reasons why they can’t make the school nut free (liability, false sense of security, forcing people in a lower economic household to buy more expensive nut butter alternatives for their child’s lunch, etc.), it didn’t have time to resonate with me for me to speak up and say that I don’t agree. The lawyer also supported this and said they would have to do that, and with my head was spinning from everything else we had discussed it didn’t hit me until later. Changing the wording on our 504 would only serve to cover their ass. Ugh. Sooo frustrating! So this is how politics work. I don’t know who’s learning more this year, me or Stella.
Aside from that, the meeting went well. We talked about field trips and our concerns about kids eating snacks with nuts while they are far away from the school. I said, is it too much to ask parents on rainy days or field trips to not pack nuts in their kid’s lunch? The lawyer, to my delight, said that is absolutely a fine thing to ask parents to do. Then I took the question a step further and asked if it would be ok to just ask parents all year long to not pack nuts in their child’s lunch? The lawyer again said that that is a fine thing to ask parents to do. It was all I could do to not jump out of my chair and hug her.
If they won’t ban nuts at the school, this is the next best thing they could do to keep kids with a nut allergy safe. Just ask. This is what I’ve wanted from day one, and I still can’t figure out why they would be reluctant to just ask parents to not pack nuts for their kid’s lunch. How simple is that? The attorney asked the principal if she sends out newsletters and how often, and then asked if she could send one out the following week asking parents to stop packing nuts. I could not believe my ears!
The attorney whom I was so frightened to see earlier shared our concerns was in our corner! Not only that, but she was asking the principal to follow through with asking the parents and I hope she holds her accountable for what she agreed to do in the meeting. I still won’t believe it until I see it. But I feel like we’re making progress. Slowly but surely.
Ok, I’m sure I’m leaving out a bunch (two hours is a long time to sit in a meeting), but the bottom line is they are unwilling to make the school nut-free but rather make it a nut-safe school, and I feel a lot of what we talked about will move it in that direction.
So my next step is writing to the superintendent about the meeting and my concerns about changing the wording of our 504 plan. I also wanted to document our meeting for the school board so it’s not just the superintendent’s version. I’ve also began to draft a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights for violating our 504 and for all the missteps the school has had this year.
Like I said, I’m learning a lot this year. One of the hardest lessons is learning to hold people accountable. I’m usually not the type of person to pester or complain nag or create a big to do over anything, so this is a whole new experience for me. But it’s the right thing to do and a lot of the time the right thing is not always the easiest.