There is probably no single
food item that better represents the traditional school lunch
for an elementary school student than a peanut butter and jelly
sandwich. It is inexpensive, easy and quick for busy parents to
make, and in most cases it satisfies even the pickiest
Well, times are changing
– in Ola, at least.
A letter was sent home to
Ola Elementary School parents the last week of school informing
them that the school would become a “Peanut/Tree Nut Free” zone
beginning this fall.
“If your child eats
peanuts or peanut butter for breakfast, please have them wash
their hands before coming to school,” wrote principal Mitchell
R. Stephens, who went on to urge parents to check labels of all
food items included in lunches.
“Items containing nuts,
or even manufactured where nuts are processed, cannot be brought
into the school,” Mitchell wrote.
A list of “safe foods”
will be provided to parents during open house.
“I know this may sound
drastic or slightly over the top, but nothing is too drastic
when it comes to situations that our [sic] life-threatening to
our students,” Mitchell wrote.
Some parents are finding
this policy far too drastic for the entire school.
“When I first read it, I
thought, ‘What am I going to send in my kid’s lunch?’” said
April Burnfin, who has two children at Ola, including a son who
just finished fourth grade. “That’s his favorite thing to eat.”
Having 17 years of
experience as an educator and currently teaching at an
elementary school in another district, Burnfin has encountered
plenty of situations involving peanut allergies, but all of them
have been resolved in the classroom without infringing on other
students and their ability to bring their favorite sandwich to
“That’s the only sandwich
he takes,” said Georgia Hill, referring to her son who just
completed kindergarten. “He’s just a normal child; he likes
peanut butter and jelly.”
Hill cited the
convenience of preparing such a lunch when she is up early and
going to work outside the home, acknowledging that it is cheaper
than a school lunch and often better in some parents’ minds.
“I understand if a kid
has allergies, but what about the rest of the children?” she
asked. “We ate PB&Js when we were in school, and I know there
were kids then who had these allergies. I don’t understand how
it is so different today.”
The issue was not
addressed at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, and
District III board member Mike Griffin said Tuesday he was not
aware of the new policy nor had he received any complaints about
A statement from the
school system Tuesday noted that the letter may have not
conveyed the intended message appropriately, and officials are
working to clear up any misunderstandings. The school system
does not have a direct policy on this issue but works with
schools as needed. There are currently 31 schools in the county
whose kitchens are peanut-free, meaning those cafeterias do not
serve food containing such allergens.
“No child will be
disciplined or made to leave school immediately with a peanut
product they travel [sic] to school on any given day,” according
to the statement. “If a product is brought to school, the
particular product (snack or lunch) will be kept in the office,
and an alternative snack/lunch will be provided with the
parent’s permission. If the parent does not grant permission
for an alternative and wants the child to be able to consume
that particular product, precautions will be taken to allow safe
consumption of the food away from areas that could be frequented
by the students with the severe allergies.”
“We work with students and parents annually
with all types of allergies and special needs like them. We are
cognizant that some needs require more involvement and awareness
by the overall school population than others. We will continue
to make sure the school learning environment is as safe as
possible, and that means taking measures to help all students.
While we will take precautions for the various needs, we will
work to maintain a normal and safe environment for the entire