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Parents upset with Ola Elementary peanut policy


  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 youngster.

  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 school.

  “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 it.

  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 school population.”



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