A peanut butter sandwich is not worth the life of a school pupil
No matter how many letters are sent home from my Sheffield school, we can’t seem to get all parents taking food allergies seriously.Those who have a child with a serious allergy in the family know the dangers only too well and are well used to taking all the precautions.
But there are many parents who don’t seem to understand the serious consequences that can result if some children are exposed to nuts, fish, bananas or whatever it is they are allergic to.This is despite high profile cases this year, highlighting how some people face serious injury and even death if they come into contact with certain foods. You might think stories of young people dying in sandwich shops would be more than enough to wake people up to the threats faced by some. But no.And the ignorance of many parents was highlighted at my own school a few weeks ago when a worried parent contacted the headteacher to voice concern about nuts being taken into school.Having seen the consequences of an allergic reaction on her child and knowing even a brief exposure to nuts can mean the fast use of an EPI pen is essential, she asked school take measures to ban nuts. It was, in her opinion, a safeguarding issue as the life of her child depended on it.We have written letters to parents asking them not to pack nuts in packed lunches to reduce the risk of allergic reactions and we were happy to send out the message once more. In my opinion, it’s a simple message to take on board; surely every parent would understand that a youngster the same age as their own child was at risk and simple precautions needed to be taken.The weeks following the fresh appeal seemed to make no difference.It wasn’t as if the school were doing spot checks and confiscating lunches – that may be a step too far – but a simple glance around my classroom at lunchtime reveals some children bringing in peanut butter sandwiches and others feasting on biscuits that may contain nuts. It seemed the printed letter home and the email to parents was disregarded and some felt their own children shouldn’t miss out on their favourite snack just because a kid in a different year group has an allergy.Exactly what would it take for this attitude to change and for all parents to check the contents of a packed lunch? Does a young person have to die and be splashed all over the papers before all parents treat this seriously?Some schools have taken the brave decision to ban nuts completely and monitor the situation to make sure no families ignore the new rule.This has gone further than asking parents to show understanding -and it’s perhaps what’s needed now to show we are really on the side of families dealing with food allergies. Somebody with a serious nut allergy does not have to come into direct contact with somebody eating nuts, they are at risk just being in the same area.So schools with a pupil like this in their cohort should take the matter very seriously and ban a whole range of products. Anybody found flouting the rules could have food taken away and replaced with something from the school’s nut-free kitchen.When schools have taken these measures, there has always been a backlash from parents who see their kids as suffering because of the minority. But there is no desperate need for students to be eating nuts or nut-based products. Preparing a nut-free packed lunch should not be hard, and neither should the avoidance of other foods.We have to look after our own children and we have a commitment to be fair to other children. If that means checking ingredients and avoiding products that could be a potential life risk, then it’s common sense to go along with it. The fact some parents look upon it as a major injustice is a sad reflection of how some families put themselves first and do not consider others.We need to change as more children live with life-threatening allergies. A peanut butter sandwich is not worth the life of a Sheffield pupil.