Parents say they’ve gotten used to scrutinizing ingredient labels before sending food into school for parties, if it’s even allowed.
When Mary Flavin’s daughter entered first grade at Parkview School in Easton, the girl had to make a choice — between a friend and a peanut butter sandwich.
The youngster chose the friend, a peanut allergy sufferer, over the sandwich. The pair sat together at one of the school’s “peanut-free” lunch tables that year.
“She wanted to sit with her friend, so she wouldn’t bring peanut butter,” Flavin said. “She would rather be with her friend.”
Choices like these are a common part of school life today, as the number of children with peanut allergies continues rising.
Easton, Brockton and other local school systems don’t offer peanut products, while also providing no-peanut tables in each school.
And parents say they’ve gotten used to scrutinizing ingredient labels before sending food into school for parties, if it’s even allowed.
In Avon, the schools instituted a policy last September that birthday parties in class can no longer include food.
“There are a lot of kids with allergies, some of them pretty severe,” explained Sherry Curley, who has three young children in the schools. “It was decided that birthdays would be celebrated in a different way — with kids getting a prize, kids getting an extra recess.”
“We needed to take the focus off food,” Curley said.
In Brockton, food is still allowed for school parties, but parents are informed at the start of each year if their student is in class with a peanut-sensitive child.
Stacy Lynch, a parent with two children at Downey Elementary School in Brockton, said the school sent home a list about what type of food is and isn’t acceptable for parties.
“Any time a parent brings in baked goods, it has to be brought to a nurse, who has to sign off on it,” Lynch said. “They are pretty strict about it.”
But Lynch said she doesn’t mind the scrutiny.
“It’s for the safety of the children, so I don’t think anybody’s up in arms about it,” she said.
In East Bridgewater, parents with children in classes with peanut-sensitive students are given special instructions.
Roxanne Fahey, a parent with three children in the schools, said in past years she has been told to double and triple wrap peanut butter sandwiches to prevent airborne spread of the product.
She also had to wash her hands after touching any peanut product and any other food she was sending in, she said.
This year, though, none of her children are in the classrooms with peanut-sensitive children, she said.
“It’s kind of a relief,” Fahey said. “There were a lot of restrictions.”
Still, Fahey said she understands that the rules are necessary.
“It’s for the care of the other children,” she said. “The kids got over it pretty quick. The kids understand I think.”
Nationwide, 1.2 percent of children are allergic to peanuts, said Dr. Michael Young, a physician with South Shore Allergy and Asthma specialists and author of “The Peanut Allergy Answer Book.” The percentage of adults with peanut allergies is far lower.
Young and other medical experts say changes in American health habits — including vaccinations and a focus on cleanliness and germ control — may actually be changing our ability to fight off allergens.
Pembroke student Peter Coner, 10, doesn’t eat peanuts, almonds or walnuts. His fifth-grade classroom in Pembroke is nut-free, and at lunch, he sits at a peanut-free table.
“At first it was kind of hard, but now it’s just like it’s not really that hard anymore because I’ve lived with the peanut allergy a long time,” he said. “I can stay near it. I just can’t eat it.”
Kathi Ryan, a Rockland High School nurse whose son has a peanut allergy, said she thinks it’s important for allergic children to be around peanuts.
“When he goes out in the real world, it’s going to be there,” she said. “He knows you shouldn't freak out because someone’s eating peanut butter at his table. Is he going to freak out in the real world?”
Kyle Alspach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gatehouse News Service material was used in this report.