a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Sep, 2007

Little Oops for CBC morning

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|Ottawa

Yesterday CBC reported a story (online and on the radio) about an allergy-related issue in a local grade one class.

According to the report, on the first day of school, parents were sent home a note, informing them of a number of things:

a) that there is a kid in their son/daughter’s class with severe allergies (I think they even used the term “life threatening”).

b) they must pack lunches that entirely avoid the child’s allergens: nuts, wheat, egg, and milk.

I didn’t hear the original report, but they spoke to one of the concerned parents, and trustee of the school about kids and allergies etc. Anyone catch it?

Lots of parents freaked out.  I heard the story from a neighbor. I couldn’t believe it either. Packing lunches is BAD ENOUGH ALREADY. It is alarming to think that, as the chief lunchmaker, you’re going to be packing nut-free, milk-free, egg-free, wheat-free lunches. We’re all used to packing nut-free, this is manageable, but what about the other things? No bread, no pita, no crackers, no yogurt, no pasta, no milk to drink. What does that leave exactly? Parental panic was understandable because in this case they were all thinking about packing carrot sticks and roast beef every day for the entire school year. (Now that would be an experiment. What would happen to 30 kids on the South Beach diet?)

Word on the street (and what CBC missed) is this:

Several parents approached the teacher right after the letter went home. The teacher clarified the issue. Apparently the kid’s wheat/egg/milk allergy is NOT life threatening. The teacher told the parents they were free to pack these things in their children’s lunches. But said teacher forgot to hand out another letter to clarify.

One parent – who obviously didn’t speak to the teacher – decided to go right to the media about it. For some reason, the media didn’t speak to the teacher either. The story was reported as fact, although it was largely a huge misunderstanding. Feathers are going to be flying today, I suppose.

p.s the draw for the printer is coming right up!


14 Responses to "Little Oops for CBC morning"

1 | porter

September 11th, 2007 at 7:44 am

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Wow.

Some pretty careless behaviour from several people I’d say.

I am fresh to the whole experience of being a parent to a child going to school, but I’ve already witnessed two instances where discussions seemed to warm up, and/or backs went up regarding the whole allergy issue with kids at school.

I sort of wonder if banning foods is the only way to go. There has to be better solutions. And I really wonder why so many people have these allergies today…I recall a time when PB&J was a staple.

I have my own thoughts about nut allergies…but the truth is, providing kids with nut free snacks/lunches is ‘managable’. I would never want someones life to be threatened just so my kid could snack on something with nuts in it.
I wouldn’t be very happy if my childs diet was restricted for every single allergy that another child has….especially those which aren’t life threatening.

2 | Sharon

September 11th, 2007 at 8:05 am

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Sounds like many people didn’t bother to get the FACTS in the case. Sloppy on many peoples part and the worst part is that the media didn’t speak to all parties concered to findout ALL the facts. Maybe some of this could have been cleared up before this whole thing got out of control. OF course then there would not have been anything to TALK about.

I often wonder what I hear and read is all the facts and not just half of the story.

I’m this was a big OOPS on many peoples part.

3 | Pamela

September 11th, 2007 at 8:21 am

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Its a very sad world that measures someones life against their lunch choices…………… As the mother of one of those children with “life threatening allergies” everyday is more than just a little scary, hoping that the 25 families in the classroom community take the time to check and help reduce the risks my child has to face each and everyday. Education and tolerance go along way. I am grateful and share that gratitude with each of the families that take that time each day.

4 | Julie McLaurin

September 11th, 2007 at 9:31 am

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I actually did catch the piece on CBC, as my child attends the “local school” in question and I had been alerted to it beforehand. Of note: the principal declined to respond to CBC; which implies that the facts were somewhat checked … on the other hand, the facts were not clarified for listeners either.

Our children have been attending the school for four years now, and we have received that letter almost every year. It has never made news before. In my opinion it all boils down to communication. The letter is obviously standard, and the parents in question did not discuss with the teacher. In the past I have had questions on acceptable items and found the teachers more than willing to discuss the issue.

I think that as members of a community (and especially as parents), we have a responsibility to look out for each other, and be clear on what expectations we have for one another. This whole mess just wouldn’t be an issue if everyone had acted out of kindness and respect. No?

5 | Yaris

September 11th, 2007 at 10:12 am

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Hmmm. Tohle je atak na prava jednotlivce: cafeterie ve skole je jako restaurace – kazdy si ji co ma rad a co muze jist! Pokud by mi nekdo rekl /narizoval/, ze nemam jist chleba a pit mleko – tak ho poslu hodne rychle do prdele !! Argument, ze z 25 deti je jedno diabetik neobstoji. To same alergie… Tohle at si laskave resi rodice sami a netahaji dotoho ucitele ani skolu!! Ucitel ma jine starosti a zodpovednost nez ze Pepicek nemuze jist mandle !!! Skola je vzdelavaci instituce. (S dodrzovanim jakekoliv diety u deti nema skola nic spolecneho. To je vec rodicu )

6 | andrea

September 11th, 2007 at 11:34 am

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Personally, when faced with issues like this one I make an effort to put myself in the place of the person who is most affected.

If I was the parent who had a child with life-threatening allergies, would I want and appreciate support and sympathy from my school community? The answer is yes. Would I expect my community to go to extreme lengths to accomodate my family? The answer is no.

I can’t imagine the fear, and the daily challenges that face the parents of a child with life-threatening allergies. Pamela, is your child fatally allergic to peanuts, or wheat/egg/milk as well?

I am concerned for the children who are so highly allergic. I have accepted the fact that I can’t pack lunches with tree nuts because we attend a “nut free” school. And even though in this particular case the kid isn’t fatally allergic to wheat/dairy/egg – even if s/he was – I’m not entirely sure that his/her parents can ask 25 other parents to go to these kinds of lengths. I think that’s asking a lot.

Perhaps there are other things we can do. We can make sure school staff is equipped with epi pens and know how to use them. We can give kids who have food allergies a safer place to eat their lunches. We can ask the other children to wash their hands and faces after lunch. We can wash the tables and wipe down the chairs. We can ask children not to share their lunches with each other (our school already does this.)

Certainly, a protocol needs to be established. And we do need to be sensitive.

7 | chantal

September 11th, 2007 at 12:24 pm

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I was coming to throw in my two cents, but I couldn’t agree with Andrea more here.

Our school does a class by class “ban” if there are life threatening allergies – and it’s posted on the door etc. Children are to eat lunches ONLY in their classes. That said, we only have two allergic children in our school and I am not sure either of the are life-threatening.

8 | Pamela

September 11th, 2007 at 2:29 pm

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Andrea asks:
“Pamela, is your child fatally allergic to peanuts, or wheat/egg/milk as well?”

My daughter is anaphylactic to peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. This means that she will have a severe allergic reaction if she injests them. Without immediate medical intervention, she could die.

Andrea also states:
“If I was the parent who had a child with life-threatening allergies, would I want and appreciate support and sympathy from my school community? The answer is yes. Would I expect my community to go to extreme lengths to accomodate my family? The answer is no.”

According to Sabrina’s Law, this is what we are all trying to acheive. The goal for any school community is to have a definitive plan to reduce, not eliminate, the risks.

I also appreciate your suggestions regarding things we can do to reduce this risk. However, you do make a suggestion that “We can give kids who have food allergies a safer place to eat their lunches”.

This sounds good, but what happens is that the students are isolated. This could lead to children feeling ostracised. We do not isolate the handicapped and we do not isolate people in the work place who suffer from environmental allergies. My husband works in an office where no one is allowed to wear any perfume products because only one person has severe allergies to them. Even in this case, it is not life threatening.

It is important to remember that although it is difficult for us to make lunches and ensure our kids eat, this pales in comparison to the families like mine, who have an anaphylactic child. We make sacrifices every day too. Some of us never get to go to a friend’s house for dinner, never get to take our children to birthday parties (and from what I have seen from Andrea’s parties, they are something else!), we don’t get to participate in pizza day.

Think of the sacrifice the child makes when everyone else gets the chocolate cupcakes or other treats and they go without.

9 | andrea

September 11th, 2007 at 3:11 pm

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Thanks Pamela, for coming back here and sharing your thoughts on this issue.

What I meant by giving the kids a safe place to eat was a reserved table (or something) among the other tables that is strictly nut-free. I agree that sending the kids away at lunch isn’t the best solution. One year we had a little boy who ate at the teacher’s desk every day. And when there were cupcakes and candies to be eaten the parent was always given advance notice… and I often saw his mom bringing him special cupcakes. I thought she handled it very well.

10 | Sharon

September 11th, 2007 at 4:52 pm

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Well its’ good to know that someone was called.
I totally agree that if they have an allergy steps should be taken to make sure the child is safe and the staff is trained.
My child has a bee allgery. We have to train him to stay away from flowers and grabage cans , walk away from one when it’s seen, and to check under things to make sure there are no nest. But there is no failsafe way to make sure he is 100 % safe. First day of school While standing watching those smiling faces get their frist instrutions I noticed a wasp in the classroom. Let me say I was on that puppy like you wouldn’t believe.

Commutination is the key.

11 | andrea

September 12th, 2007 at 10:14 am

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I exchanged emails with the producer of the show yesterday. There was supposed to be a follow-up to this story on the radio this morning. Anyone catch it?

12 | Sam

September 12th, 2007 at 10:23 am

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At our school its the “healthy” kids that are “isolated” and “ostracised”. PB&J sends them out of the classroom rather than just the minority who are affected.

A dedicated cafeteria where professional staff clean it should be the norm in this day and age yet kids eat at their desks which never get cleaned by an adult.

An epi-pen should be administered at the first slight signs, like a sore throat, yet in over 5 years at not once has one been given in our school which has countess allergy warning signs posted. An indication that the message is getting out yet.

Parents who have an epi-toting child need to get the message out that the pen is safe to use anytime. Clearly the masses don’t understand them.

Ask a real doctor for information.

13 | twinmomplusone

September 12th, 2007 at 2:49 pm

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well a lot of valid points have already been brought up but I just have to add my two cents

When my son was nearly two years old, he had a severe anaphylactic reaction, not something I wish on any parent to witness with their own child. Overnight, we were thrown in the “nut free” world: no more PB in our home :(, we had to educate grandparents and friends. We didn’t ask for this to happen but it is now the reality of our lives and we deal with it.

One of my pet peeves is how loosely the term “allergic” is used. A food allergy is something that is fatal. Period. That’s when its paramount to eliminate that food from the child’s environment. And yes, us parents with allergic kids need the help from other parents to achieve this. That’s why at the first parent-teacher meeting I addressed the parents present to make them conscious of the fact that my son, not some hypothetical kid, was allergic. A few had questions but generally, more and more people are aware. Not sharing is the norm. washing hands before and after eating is paramount too. Bringing treats for everyone to eat in the classroom is no longer feasible. The school principal turned out to be very knowledgeable and supportive which really put my mind at ease.

The term “allergic” is too often loosely used for an actual “intolerance”: will get sick when ingested but is not fatal. That’s when the foods need not be totally eliminated from the child’s surroundings. Last year, at my kids pre-school, there was such a long list of allergies that the head mistress was at her wit’s end. Gently approaching the subject with some parents revealed a few surprises. “Allergic to chocolate” meant the child would be hyper for hours afterwards…that’s an intolerance in my books. “Allergic to milk” is usually an intolerance to milk and yet another child “allergic to milk” was labelled so because the parents didn’t want the child to ingest any animal products,,,that one blew me away.

Too bad that this story got to the media without proper follow-up. Hope it gets all ironed out. Ultimately, its the safety of children that we are talking about.

14 | Wes

September 14th, 2007 at 10:56 am

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In response to Sam;

As a father of an anaphylactic child, I could not agree with you more. It is not right to single out any child, be it the one who is allergic or the one who brings in something hazardous (like a PB & J).

I had a another child in my daughter’s classroom berated by a lunch monitor because her bun had sesame (my daughter is allergic to them). My daughter felt very bad for the student and I was livid with the lunch monitor. It makes my child uncomfortable and upset. Needless to say it was upsetting to the other student as well.

Our advocacy is to reduce risk, not eliminate it. That would be most impossible.

A little common sense goes a long way.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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