School bans eggs, dairy and nuts due to one student's allergies

A Hamilton, Ont. school places a controversial ban on certain lunch items to accommodate a student's severe allergies. But have they gone too far?

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Can you imagine packing a lunch without dairy? Parents of students at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School in Hamilton, Ontario, are being asked to avoid putting dairy, eggs and fish into their kids’ lunches because of one student’s severe allergies.

As parents, we’ve become accustomed to nut-free lunches, but this school is taking extra measures to accommodate seven-year-old Elodie Glover. Elodie has life-threatening anaphylactic reactions to eggs and dairy and had to leave school last year because of continued exposure to dairy in the classroom. Her mother, Lynne Glover, filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal claiming that the school’s failure to accommodate Elodie’s life-threatening allergies became a barrier to her education. And, from the story in the National Post, it sounds like the school outright ignored the mom’s concerns.

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This year, the school administration settled on a new approach, sending home a letter to every student requesting they bring lunches that are free of tree nuts, eggs, dairy and fish. This is a recommendation for everyone in the school, but only the lunches in Elodie’s classroom will be checked each day for any offending items. Anything that could potentially cause a reaction will be removed by teachers.

Principal Michael Campbell wrote:

“We can all play a positive role in preventing such a dangerous and frightening situation in our school… We understand that this may be an inconvenience for you, but please realize how important your assistance is. We would take the same care should your child have such a health care need.”

Greg Potter has a son who is allergic to peanuts and attends the same school. “He can’t have Goldfish crackers, granola bars, Bear Paws, Crispy Minis, flavoured rice cakes,” Potter says, noting his son is now taking plain lunch meat, Ritz crackers and fruit in his lunch. He even told the Hamilton Spectator that some parents have requested their kids be be removed from Elodie’s class over what they consider to be extreme lunch guidelines.

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Anaphylaxis is an unpredictable and vicious killer. I can’t even imagine the stress of parents who have to deal with that fear every single day. According to the Anaphylaxis Canada website, direct ingestion poses the greatest risk, although skin contact can cause a reaction as well:

“Inhalation of airborne peanut protein can cause allergic reactions, though usually not systemic anaphylaxis. The odour alone has not been known to cause an anaphylactic reaction. Direct ingestion of an allergy-causing food poses the greatest risk for the sensitized individual.”

The Hamilton school is trying to make sure that Elodie does not come into contact with any allergen in her classroom at all. The onus on keeping Elodie safe is shared by her family, the school and the other students in her class. And I’m not sure that is fair. This issue brings up some big questions that philosophers have been debating for centuries about the needs of the individual versus the needs of the group. But it is the smaller questions that are probably on the minds of most parents—like, how do you pack a lunch with so many restrictions? And what’s next on the banned list?

I’m not even sure how I would pack a lunch without cheese—my kids, especially my pseudo-vegetarian sixth-grader, has some kind of cheese in their lunch every single day. Without it, they wouldn’t be getting any energy-sustaining protein at all. Banning eggs, cheese and fish seriously limits the lunch options for kids. It also rules out lots of leftovers, not to mention the easiest lunch of all: cream cheese on bread. Lynne Glover provided a list of lunch options to the school, but parents of picky eaters and vegetarians may despair when they see their limited options.

I’m trying my best to put myself in Lynne Glover’s shoes. I’m reminding myself that it’s good for kids to learn empathy, and know that their needs for macaroni and cheese are not paramount. But I can’t completely convince myself that this is the best way to handle the situation. I also wonder about the unintended consequences that could hurt Elodie’s social life within the class. Will she be ostracized by classmates over the school’s lunch decision?

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Allergens are all around us, and it would be next to impossible to keep the classrooms safe from any traces of dairy, eggs and nuts. The school can ask parents to refrain from putting those items in lunches, but they can’t ask that kids avoid milk in the mornings or ban grilled cheese at the breakfast table. A ban on lunch items only goes so far. It may not seem like enough for the Glover family, but it probably goes too far for many families at the school.

The line has to be drawn somewhere. I’m just not sure where.

We would love to hear from parents of kids with and without allergies on this issue! What do you think of banning dairy, eggs, fish and nuts from school lunches?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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