Mom asks Arlington Heights schools to ban peanuts
Arlington Heights mom pushes for change; not all agree it's necessary
About 10 minutes after her lunch period ended, Lucca Teuscher's hands began to itch. Her face swelled and her throat tightened, making it difficult for Lucca, 8, to breathe.
Lucca, at student at Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School in Arlington Heights, knew those signs meant she was having an anaphylactic reaction -- a potentially deadly result of her severe peanut allergy.
But Lucca hadn't eaten any peanuts at lunch. She sits at her own table away from her other third-grade friends. She rushed to the nurse when she felt the reaction start.
As it became harder for her to breathe, the school nurse administered a shot of epinephrine with an EpiPen. Lucca face and body started to puff up and, when her parents arrived, they rushed to Northwest Community Hospital while the principal rode in an ambulance with Lucca to the emergency room.
"That was the worst thing the school nurse could call and tell me," Lucca's mother, Melissa, said about the March 13 attack. "It was just horrifying; my worst nightmare."
Lucca spent the night in the hospital and received another dose of epinephrine to bring down the swelling. She was on oxygen and got several breathing treatments overnight, her mom said.
Now, the Teuschers are trying to change school policy in a way they believe could help keep their daughter safe.
"We want a peanut-free school and, in a dream world, a peanut-free district," Teuscher said.
It's a rare step, beyond what the local school and many others nationwide already do to protect students with allergies. More common steps are creating peanut-free tables and restricting snacks and treats allowed in classrooms where there is a student with an allergy. With a complete ban, students would not be allowed to bring peanut products, such as peanut butter, in their lunches from home.
"The district has been great about not allowing any peanuts in the classroom, but that's just not enough," Teuscher said. "Children who eat a peanut butter sandwich at lunch open doors, touch play equipment and handle countless communal objects."
Teuscher said this isn't a story of her family fighting the school district, though. In fact, she wants the family and the district to be a team so a scary situation like what happened earlier this month never happens again.
"My husband and I worry about Lucca every day because we know her fate is basically in the hands of the school personnel. But we don't feel that should be their responsibility," she said. "We aren't saying we want staff to police every sandwich. We would just have faith that the community would respect the policy."
Teuscher made her plea to the Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board March 19 but hasn't received a response yet. She plans to meet with the superintendent and other administrators next week.
For now, Lucca eats her lunch alone in the front office to stay safe.
When a student has a medical need, they are legally allowed to have an individualized plan in place with the family, school nurse and teacher about how to keep that student safe during the school day, District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein said.
"We have lots of kids with lots of different allergies in the school district," she said.
At District 25, policies already include peanut-free lunch tables and classrooms.
Bein said the move to make District 25 completely nut-free would take a lot of study and discussion, but she isn't ruling it out.
"At this point I'd consider anything to help her daughter, and all children, feel safe in school," Bein said. "But we need to talk more about peanut-free schools; where do they exist, how does it work, what's feasible. We're dedicated, at this point, to doing the research to see what kinds of possibilities exist and then we'll be able to see what we can do and what works best for all kids."
The topic is a growing concern as the number of children with food allergies continues to increase.
According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including about one in every 13 children.
If District 25 decides to make a change, it likely won't come without controversy.
According to a poll done by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan in 2014, only 38 percent of parents support a policy that nut-containing lunch or snack items are not allowed anywhere in school.
All school meals served at Chicago Public Schools are nut-free, a change made after the death of a student in 2010 from an allergic reaction. At least one school in the city has taken the directive even closer to what the Teuschers would like to see in Arlington Heights.
Ravenswood Elementary School, a fine and performing arts magnet school in Chicago, voted to become completely nut-free starting in January 2015, meaning students are not allowed to bring outside food with nuts. That includes peanut butter, granola bars and candy containing nuts, or any packaged foods with labels that read "may contain traces of tree nuts."
Unlike Chicago, Elgin Area Unit District U-46, the second largest school district in the state, has not banned peanut butter from school meals.
"For generations, peanuts have been a favorite, nutritious, delicious and economical food," the district says in an explanation of its policy online. "Exposure to peanut allergen is difficult to control. Food & Nutrition Services of School District U-46 feel a 'peanut ban' would only serve to provide a false sense of security for parents and discriminate against the approximate 95 percent of the population who are not allergic."
Several expert groups agree, including the National Association of School Nurses and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, which do not recommend school bans on nuts. Position papers on the issue cite problems with enforcement and the need to prepare a student with allergies to enter the bigger world where there are no nut bans as part of their rationale.
But Teuscher said she just wants to keep her daughter and other students with similar allergies safe.
"There are so many healthy things you can feed your child. If you knew you could contribute to such a life-threatening thing, wouldn't you just pack something else," she said. "We see countless accommodations made for kids so they can learn. This is an accommodation that costs nothing, but it can save a life."
Allergies: Some experts do not recommend school bans on nuts