By Kelly Youngblood
A Champaign elementary school has asked parents not to pack fish or nuts in their child’s lunch anymore.
Carrie Busey Elementary sent home a letter to families a couple of weeks ago with the request in an effort to protect staff and students at the school who have severe fish and peanut allergies.
“We have someone with a very, very serious reaction to fish. And we have more and more kids that are allergic to peanuts,” said Jeff Scott, principal at Carrie Busey.
“We are not strictly enforcing ‘No peanuts,’ but we are asking people to stay away from that,” Scott added. “So we are saying absolutely no fish, suggesting no peanuts as well.”
Carrie Busey has always had peanut-free tables at lunch. But several health emergencies related to food allergens has prompted the school to tighten its policies even further.
“We have had a number of serious reactions to fish that have resulted in EMS services needing to be called,” Scott said.
Stephanie Stuart, director of communications and community relations for Champaign Unit 4 School District, said these severe allergic reactions can be triggered by coming into contact with a lunch table that has been touched by fish or peanuts.
“A number of these situations have occurred this school year that required emergency medical assistance and an ambulance coming to assist the affected individuals,” Stuart said.
The Champaign School District does not serve peanuts or fish in the cafeteria at any of its elementary schools. But each of the 12 schools can decide how it handles peanuts and fish in terms of other students bringing these items to school for lunch, Stuart said.
Amy Jessup, a nurse practitioner and coordinator of the Carle Food Allergy Education program, said while she understands the reasoning behind it, putting food restrictions in place at schools won’t guarantee an allergen-free environment.
“The issue with banning a food is that someone always forgets to read a label,” Jessup said. “We can’t expect the entire community to read every label of everything that goes into their child’s lunch.”
Jessup cautioned that banning foods at school could “provide a false sense of security.”
“The risk is never removed,” she said. “There is always a peanut in someone’s pocket or lunch. Food is everywhere.”
Jessup stressed the importance of schools being vigilant with their allergy training plans and knowing how to prevent, identify and treat allergic reactions.
“By no means should (banning food) replace the allergy preparedness,” Jessup said.
JoAnne Geigner, communications specialist for the Urbana School District, said staff members throughout their district have had extensive training and education about allergy awareness and potentially serious allergies.
“That training stresses precautions and the seriousness of all allergic reactions and we have implemented guidelines for the management of life-threatening food allergies,” Geigner said.
Geigner said Urbana schools are “allergy aware,” which means nuts are prohibited in all food service preparation and meals. However, students are not banned from “bringing in items with ingredients commonly known to trigger allergies.”
All Urbana schools are now stocked with epinephrine auto-injectors, thanks to a grant from Carle Foundation’s Women’s Legacy Circle. Geigner said designated school staff will be appropriately trained to respond to any student suffering from a severe allergic reaction.
Jessup noted peanut allergies are not the only concern for students. Some are allergic to milk, eggs, and wheat for example.
“With food allergies you have to find that delicate balance between keeping everyone safe and respecting everyone’s rights,” Jessup said.
She added, “If you plan and educate and you prepare, you’re going to know what to do.”