When 10-year-old William heads off to school in Toronto, he has two EpiPens on him at all time. There is a third one in the principal’s office. His mom Sherry Boguski said William’s peanut allergy is severe.
“If he touches something with a little bit of peanut residue on it and puts his hand in his mouth, there is a chance he can go into anaphylaxis, which means he’ll stop breathing shortly thereafter,” Boguski said.
She is firing back at a growing number of parents upset that they are banned from sending their kids to school with sandwiches made from non-nut spreads, which look like peanut butter. They are made out of things like soy or sunflower seeds.
Boguski is hoping parents keep it in perspective, pointing out no one is saying don’t ever feed your child those things, just for one meal a day.
There are online petitions and complaints from parents who say it is ridiculous to ban nutritious foods which are perfectly safe, and don’t threaten children with allergies.
Some of those parents say they have to look out for their own kid’s health.
“My son is a very picky eater and we get concerned, there are two lunches a week coming home half eaten. My wife has tried making macaroni in the morning and putting it in a thermos but by lunch it is cold. It just gets to the point where you hate to see them coming home hungry.” said David Ehmann.
His family has gone so far as to offer to sign a waiver saying they don’t even have peanut butter in their house, so there would be no confusion, but to no avail.
Among school boards across the GTA, only two, York Region and Durham District School Boards have implemented a full out ban on non-nut spreads. The others say it is on a school by school basis, except York Catholic which has not given us it’s policy. Still, some parents say even in schools where it is only supposed to be a “request”, the kids are getting in hot water for safe sandwiches. Some kids who even have peanut allergies and bring the alternatives to school are getting sent to the office and notes sent home, according to Ehmann.
The problem is it is almost impossible to distinguish between the nut and non-nut spreads… They look and smell the same, so if the non-nut spreads are allowed, it would be up to teachers or even older students who monitor primary grade children to make the call.
One brand, WowButter, which is made of soy, provides stickers parents can put on lunches, to reassure the school they are nut free.
“There’s too much of, this is their policy and that’s it. People aren’t using their common sense and really thinking through the situation.” said Scott Mahon, WowButter’s President. He believes the key is education, pointing out many schools contact them and ask for background and samples to show their product is safe.
But Boguski said she feels for other parents who want to feed their children the non-nut spreads. But added that the chance of confusion or a simple mistake is just too great, making it not worth the risk. She said sending a child with severe allergies off to school every day is stressful.
“It is as if your child is constantly dancing on the edge of a cliff, and how do you make sure he doesn’t fall off.”