Not time to ban peanuts from schools, Arlington Heights Dist. 25 says
Students in Arlington Heights elementary schools can still bring peanut butter in their lunches, for now.
A few parents have asked District 25 to ban all peanut products in the schools, worried that kids with extreme allergies are in danger.
But district officials say the first step will be educating the community before any further decisions are made.
The issue came to the forefront after an Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School third-grader had an anaphylactic reaction at school last month, even though she hadn't eaten peanuts.
The girl was rushed to the hospital and recovered, but her mother, Melissa Teuscher, has since asked the school board for an all-out ban on peanut products, saying it was possible her daughter's reaction was caused by peanut particles in the air or from touching something -- like a doorknob -- that had peanut residue from another student.
District 25 already has peanut-free classrooms and lunch tables reserved for students with allergies. An all-out ban would mean no student could bring peanut butter or other products in their lunches -- an extreme step that few schools across the country have taken.
"After talking with the family and doing a lot of research, both on other districts that have had similar requests and medical institutions, we've decided that really the strongest best, first step is a step of education," said Superintendent Lori Bein. "There's a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about allergies, both food and otherwise that students experience."
Bein sent a letter to the District 25 community announcing a committee will meet this summer to come up with programs for students, families and the community to raise awareness about allergies and how to best keep students safe.
That could include making a video with students talking about what it's like to live with an allergy, and hosting a family activity night to show people the different types of allergies students have and serving different foods, Bein said.
About 25 people, including parents, current and former students have already asked to be a part of the committee. Anyone still interested in joining can email Bein at email@example.com.
A total peanut ban isn't off the table, but it isn't something the district is actively pursuing right now, either.
"No decision has been made other than that the most important, impactful first step we can take is education of everybody," she said.
Bein said the Teuscher family will be part of the committee this summer. Melissa Teuscher was not available for comment on Friday.
A complete ban could still have its problems, though, and some experts say it can create a false sense of security.
"We could never say 100 percent sure that all food allergies are 100 percent eliminated from our school environment," Bein said. "We don't know what people bring in on their hands or on their shoes. We could never promise 100 percent allergen-free schools, whether that's peanuts or the other dangerous allergens.
"But I do believe wholeheartedly there is more we can do to help."
Bein said she has heard from people on both sides of the issue since the Teuschers first spoke up, both from parents who agree with a ban and those who say peanut butter is their child's favorite food and they hope the schools won't prohibit it.
Bein said it is a delicate balance.
"Allergies can be life-threatening. Anything we can do for any one child that doesn't negatively impact other children is something we should investigate," she said. "It's definitely something we take seriously. But we won't react without making sure we have all the factual information in front of us."