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Just whose rights are at risk here?

Submitted by on Monday, 14 March 2011 No Comment

Until today, I thought “Fight for Your Right to Party” was just an old 80s rock song. I never dreamed that holiday celebrations – or the lack thereof – would draw actual protests.

That was before I ran across a food-allergy case in Florida, one that inspired parents to picket outside a school over precautions being taken to try to make school safe for a first-grader with a severe peanut allergy.

The situation isn’t a lot different from ours, though we’ve never asked that peanuts be banned from the entire school. “That really wouldn’t be fair,” Big Guy said. “What if the kids only like peanut butter?” He’s always sat at a peanut-free table, though.

We’ve also never asked for a party ban – just a ban on peanut party foods. Increasingly, though, the district has taken care of that issue with a move away from celebrations involving food. Last week second-graders at Big Guy’s school who had met their reading goals were treated to extra time outside, where they ran and played games.

I’ll admit, though, there are a few things going on in a Volusia County, Florida first-grade class that I don’t understand.

I don’t get why kids need to wash their hands three times a day – are they really eating that often? I don’t understand the need for students to rinse their mouths – oral transfer seems like a relatively low-risk for first grade, unless they’re passing around wind instruments in a daily music class. I can’t comprehend – and I question the credibility of – a doctor who goes on television and flatly states that peanut allergic children are at a “minor risk to a minor reaction” from contact at school. He must have missed the news out of Chicago around Christmas. I wouldn’t consider death a minor reaction.

Most of all, I am unable to grasp why the classroom precautions upset parents enough that they staged a protest. A protest that they involved their own children in. Check out the video. Midway through, you’ll see a kid holding a sign that says “We want fair, reasonable communication and compromise.” Do those sound like a child’s words?

“They’re against her,” the allergic child’s father said sadly. “This basically is being against her.”

“People would never act like that at my school,” Big Guy said as he watched the video.

And they’re both right. How on Earth do you compromise a child’s right to continue to breathe? How is “missing out” on holiday parties a problem if it keeps a little girl from missing out on a visit to the emergency room? At our school, people seem to understand that or, if they don’t, they fume in silence. Either way, I’m happy that Big Guy isn’t subjected.

The parents in Florida say they’re upset in part because school officials didn’t communicate to them about the problem. School officials, on the other hand, say they mailed a notice out explaining the situation to parents.

I believe school officials, because I’ve seen such communications overlooked before. The note says “no candy due to allergies,” but the Reese’s show up anyway. And recently on Big Guy’s football team, I asked the coach to include a note with the snack schedule asking that no food containing peanuts be handed out due to allergies. Yet, at the first game, the snack was peanut butter and crackers.¬† I hustled Big Guy to the car lest he and a teammate who had eaten the snack decided to start goofing around.

The parents who handed out the snack are not bad people – we’d been on the same team with one of their children before, except it was Boots and peanut allergies weren’t a problem. But obviously they’re people who either didn’t read the memo or didn’t understand that Big Guy’s at risk if someone who touches peanut touches him. It wasn’t likely – Big Guy is very conscious of his condition and aware of his responsibility to remove himself from the vicinity of peanut products – but why introduce a risk when there are so many other snack options?

In that situation, you’re at the mercy of parents doing what you hope they’d do because Big Guy has no legal right to play peewee football. He does, however, have a right to go to school, just as the little girl in Florida does. It’s right there in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

As with most stories the most ludicrous reactions – more ridiculous even than children standing with placards protesting their classmates – are in the comments. Posters swung from calling for parents to homeschool their “fragile” child to complaining that they’re overprotecting their “priceless” daughter. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.

Big Guy is not fragile in the least. He’s a strapping, tough-as-nails kid who just happens to be cursed with a couple of medical conditions. He’s been raised to be aware of those and to take care of himself. Yes, at times he overreacts. It’s happened twice recently, when he’s run to the school nurse after a classmate who ate peanut butter for lunch touched¬† him.

Calm down, the nurse and I have told him. Just because you’re not seeing them use the wipes – which I provide at my own expense – doesn’t mean that they’re not.

Kind of ironic that I’m teaching my peanut-allergic child to react calmly and rationally, while the parents in Florida are teaching theirs to protest the horrible inconvenience of hand-washing and the injustice of missed parties.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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