Editorial: Doing what we can to protect victims of food allergies
No PB&J at the school lunch table? Elimination of the ubiquitous childhood sandwich staple is almost too shocking to imagine. Unless you're Melissa Teuscher.
Teuscher wants to keep her 8-year-old daughter Lucca alive, and she's already suffered through one two-day scare when Lucca's extreme allergy to peanuts led to an emergency in her school lunchroom at Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School in Arlington Heights. Understandably, Teuscher wants a safe school environment for her daughter where Lucca will not have any chance of encountering traces of the allergen that could kill her in a matter of minutes, and that means a school without peanuts or peanut products.
Is that realistic? Is it even possible? Officials at Arlington Heights Dist. 25 can't say, but they're willing to look into it. That says a lot for the district, and it reinforces a quality that's pervasive throughout the public-school system, a willingness to sacrifice to accommodate the special needs of small minorities of students.
English as a Second Language programs. Special Education classes. These intensive school efforts are expensive and demanding, yet we take them on in order to help give young people a better chance at living their fullest possible life.
Must this extend to schools in which every single student is forbidden to bring a peanut-butter sandwich or Snickers candy bar to school or where parents must inspect the labels of every product they buy for their children's lunches or snacks? And what about the students who suffer from one of the numerous other allergies that afflict children? In an article Sunday, Melissa Silverberg cites Centers for Disease Control statistics estimating as many as one in every 13 children suffers from some form of food allergy.
Deciding which ones to respond to and how to respond is a tall order, and Teuscher herself -- like no doubt many other mothers of children with life-threatening allergies who attend suburban schools -- is not blind to its demands. "We aren't saying we want staff to police every sandwich," Teuscher told Silverberg. "We would just have faith the community would respect the policy."
It is an ambitious yet not-unreasonable hope. At least the topic merits some study, as administrators have promised at Dist. 25, which like many other districts already has policies that include peanut-free lunch tables and classrooms.
And, whatever the official approach our institutions take, cases like Lucca Teuscher's emphasize for those of us who don't live with such hardships or handicaps the importance of the accommodations we must make to improve the quality of life of people who live among us in our communities every day. Even if we can't eliminate every trace of every substance that poses a danger to a child at school, we can and should encourage actions, official and unofficial, that minimize the risks.