Schools are trying to protect kids with life-threatening allergies.
Forget parents complaining about crafting lunches picky eaters will approve. This fall, some Toronto parents have been grumbling about pleasing school guidelines.
Parents in one class at R.H. McGregor Elementary School were asked to not bring apples to school because a student was allergic.
Some parents called these restrictions recipes for disaster, saying too many make packing lunches and snacks too difficult. Some aired their grievances in the media, prompting a response from one newspaper editorial board.
But these complaining parents are actually the rare bad apples ruining the bushel, according to other parents and a Toronto District School Board official.
Parents understand it’s important to keep children, especially young children, safe from foods that could send them to the hospital and possibly endanger their lives, says Ryan Bird, TDSB spokesperson.
“(Parents) get it,” he says. “They understand. And they help.”
He is not aware of anyone complaining to the board about food restrictions at schools.
The board does not officially ban foods or food products, he says. Each school decides what is allowed at their school based on their students’ needs. The board does not track which schools restrict which foods, Bird says.
The R.H. McGregor Parent and School Council declined Torontoist’s request for comment. A representative said in an email that the council is not involved in, or able to comment on, this subject.
Ontario school boards are legally required to develop policies about protecting students who have anaphylactic allergies at school.
Anaphylactic reactions can be deadly.
A TDSB policy [PDF] outlines the responsibilities of principals, teachers, and all families in the school community, including those whose children don’t have allergies. The policy requires parents to inform schools about their children’s allergies and teach their children about how to protect themselves. Principals are to make plans about how to best meet students’ needs and review these documents yearly.
All parents in the school community need to “respond co-operatively to requests from the school to reduce the risk of causative allergens in the school environment.”
Most parents do, says Allison Venditti, whose two young sons have life-threatening food allergies.
Her oldest, a five-year-old, attends Essex Public School. He has a dozen anaphylactic allergies, including to peanuts, soy, tree nuts, and mangoes. One reason Venditti enrolled him at Essex is because the school doesn’t allow students to bring in food for their classmates to celebrate birthdays—something that could be risky for her son. That accommodation was one less thing to “advocate for,” she says.
“I don’t think food allergies are any different from any other disabilities,” Venditti says. “They require some thought to be put into the process.”
Many items students bring to school contain soy or soy products. It would be “unrealistic” for her to ask parents to avoid packing these items, she says. Instead, her son uses his own placemat at lunch. The teacher watches him. After lunch, students wash their hands and sanitize the tables.
Other parents have never complained to her about any accommodations, Venditti says. Some are surprised by the number of allergies he has. He used to have more, including one to nectarines.
She hadn’t heard of fruit allergies until he was diagnosed, so Venditti understands why some parents at R.H. McGregor may have been surprised to hear their child’s classmate has an apple allergy.
“No one is doing this on purpose to try and make you packing your lunch for your child more difficult,” Venditti says. “That’s not their end goal. Their end goal here is that they have a child that they love more than life itself that they’re trying to keep safe. That’s the reasoning behind someone asking you not to bring apples to school.”
Some parents whose children don’t have allergies are grateful for restrictions on what foods enter the classroom, says Marni Halter.
Both of her sons have various life-threatening allergies. Her youngest is allergic to sesame and milk. His kindergarten class would eat snacks in the classroom, so she asked parents to pack fruits and vegetables for their children’s snacks instead of other foods that contained the two allergens. Another student in the class also had food allergies and so did the teacher.
Several parents told her they were glad for this because it promoted healthy eating, she says.
Halter brings in snacks for the whole class for celebrations.
“(We) feel like it’s a repayment for everyone else being conscientious and careful around our kids,” she says.
On Halloween, she sent her sons to school with fruit, vegetables, and candies that were safe for them—and their classmates—to eat. She makes sure to accommodate other children who have allergies.
Parents who are upset about restrictions on what their children can eat at school need to be creative and use imagination when planning meals, she says.
“I don’t think it’s any more difficult to pick up an orange than it is to pick up an apple at the grocery store,” Halter says. “I would remind people that this is not a frivolous concern. Somebody’s life depends on it.”