Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Exclusion, Accommodation, Inclusion: Three Choices For Every School

There's an excellent video out right now that demonstrates all the many places our children are left out in school:

My son has been in so many of these situations, particularly the one where there's nothing safe to eat at the classroom party and the teacher says "well gosh, guess you might as well go off to the library." 

When my son was little, allergies were fairly new to the school scene and my husband and I were afraid to ask for too much from our schools. We didn't really even know what to ask for. We certainly didn't understand that schools are mandated to include children in the "least restrictive environment." 

After 12 years in the public school system, I've learned a great deal. Unfortunately, it's too late for my own child. However, I thought the following matrix might give you parents of younger child something to think about and discuss with your schools:

Parents provide all special treats and are present at activities they deem problematic (resulting in lost time from work/extra expense); student sent out in the hall or to the library when there’s unsafe food in the classroom
Provided with “safe” area and own food (“treat box”)
No foods used in the classroom that are not safe for student, including holiday parties, math teaching aids, language/culture days, etc.; special classroom party fund is collected and used to purchase all treats; trained school staff member is available for field trips or other high-risk activities
Eats lunch in own area, separate from other children
Eats at an allergen-free table
Allergic child eats wherever he/she wants; children who bring peanut-containing foods sit at a specific peanut table
Cannot participate in after-school activities involving food (pancake breakfasts, sports events with concessions, ice cream socials, etc.)
School ensures there is at least one allergen-free option for the child at each event
School social events are food-free
Burden of educating staff members about allergies falls to parent and/or no education occurs
School passively disseminates information/allergy “sheet” on a limited basis, such as a classroom binder or only to the health staff
School actively trains all individuals throughout the district, including transportation staff and school volunteers
Brings lunch from home; no accommodation for forgotten lunch; school food service takes no responsibility for allergic reactions
School food service periodically provides ingredient lists to students who request it
Food service trained in cross-contamination; documented procedure with multiple check-points for allergic student lunch; identified substitute lunch available that is allergen-free

I'm sure there are many more examples we could add to this table. But it does demonstrate an important point: we need to do more than complain about how our children are treated. We also need to demonstrate what it is that we want from schools. What does inclusion really look like?

When I was a jr. high school student, I received an important lesson in inclusion. Our school had a deaf student attending. The student had an aide who would translate all lessons and spoken interactions into sign language. 

Our school administrator could have looked at the situation and said "Great - I'm done." The child was accommodated and included, at least on the surface. However, my guess is that the administrator really looked at the situation and realized that 7th grade children were very unlikely to interact with the deaf child because of the presence of the adult interpreter. He felt compassion for this isolated child. He wanted inclusion, not just accommodation. 

The result was that every single child in that school was required to take a course in sign language. It was included in one of the elective blocks for the year. As a result, ALL of us were at least able to sign "hello" and a few key phrases to the deaf child and we delighted in showing him our new-found skills. 

I don't know if there were parents banging on the door, demanding that their children learn more useful skills. I don't know if teachers complained that the administrator was disrupting their set schedules. But I do know that child felt more included. I still remember his shy smile every time I signed "hello." 

It's ironic that our schools are investing in programs like "Character Counts" to develop core ethical values when they have an opportunity right in front of them with food-allergic kids. It just takes a commitment to truly include our kids...and a little creative thinking.


  1. Is your point that the 98% of students without allergies always have to accommodate the few like your son? Learning sign language does not mean not hearing, it is an accommodation. Requiring every student to change their eating because of your son is tyranny.

    1. I can understand that classroom activities are not going to include food anymore -- fine with that. But we are enrolled in a program that has a nut-free classroom, even though children BRING THEIR OWN lunches. So, I have to tell my daughter that she can't have her beloved peanut butter & jelly like her brothers (at older schools) because of another child's special needs.

    2. I'm not a fan of peanut bans. At the same time, I recognize that some children need extreme accommodations and some schools do make these choices.

      If a child is contact-sensitive with a low threshold, then other children who bring peanut butter will have it on their hands, and make in turn transfer it to desks, toys and other surfaces. Peanut bans may be necessary, especially when children are young.

    3. You know I'd feel more sympathetic to your comment if I didn't have a son who could DIE from ingesting a peanut (or milk, or eggs). But no you're right going without a "beloved" peanut butter sandwich for a whole 6 1/2 hours is so much more important than protecting other kids lives. This is what I love, people think oh well no big deal, it's just a food allergy, they don't realize they could in fact die. I'm not saying people should revolve their lives around it but there are a lot of other options for a lunch or snack that you can pack for your kids (and yes I have another child you enjoys peanut butter and other things my older son can't have) we work around it. Also just because they bring their own lunches doesn't mean the threat of it getting onto another child's desk or plate or whatever is gone. Kids like to share sometimes and with a food allergy not only do you ALREADY feel left out of certain things, you want them to fear lunch time too? My son's been in the ER room 5 times when I couldve lost him, but please tell me more about how I should feel sorry for your daughter not having a sandwich.

  2. Where did I require every student to change their eating? I do not believe in peanut bans. I do believe in schools living up to their obligation to fully include disabled students (and you misunderstood my other post - I was not trying to avoid the label).

    If there is food in school or school-sanctioned activities, that food needs to be inclusive of all students. Schools can certainly opt to take the food out of classrooms altogether if that's easier - it's generally not an integrated part of the curriculum.

    Did you see the line about "compassion", David? Using words like "tyranny" is never helpful when we're talking about children.

    P.S. Don't miss my video:

    There are cupcake kings, too.

  3. @David, severe food allergies are very different from most other disabilities. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to teach our children to say no to unsafe foods. Anaphylaxis requires only that the allergen enter the blood stream. This can be through digestion, inhalation, absorption...even a mucous membrane such as eyes, nose or mouth can be enough to cause a reaction.
    Many school surfaces are shared during the long hours that children are at school. Is it too much to ask that certain foods be restricted or that proper handwashing techniques be enforced?
    My daughter has severe (anaphylaxis) allergies to many foods but I have never requested that the school ban all of them. I do ask that they limit or restrict those which, due to their physical nature are very hard to contain the spread of.
    I would ask you to consider that this medical condition is unlike most other medical conditions because we really do rely upon others to help us keep our children safe. In that way, food allergies are more like driving. We rely upon others to use caution and common sense so that we can all enjoy the benefits.

  4. It is not that hard to include all children in celebrations. There ARE safe foods all children can enjoy together...or non-food celebrations are just fine. It's not the kids that care (it's the parents). Shared food celebrations are unsafe for children with food allergies. Many will take the cupcake to feel included. And those that don't feel left out. School is about learning, not food parties. All children should be included and safe in their classroom.

  5. Regarding inclusion, if one child in a class has a physical challenge, does that mean the entire class does not go to the playground. Why should one child's condition dictate the entire group dynamics and everything has to revolve around it?

    1. You are obviously an unsympathetic person based on your responses. Food Allergic Bitch has more patience than I do for an idiot such as yourself.

  6. David, bottom line, the school is obligated to include disabled children as fully as they can. They can do that easily by removing food from educational situations where it has no educational value.

    The example you gave is a false equivalency because physical education is a core part of the curriculum for most children. Removing it would harm them and would not result in further inclusion of the disabled child. In the case of food in classrooms, removing it helps the disabled child and has no effect educationally on the other children.

    The onus is on people like you to argue that food *does* have a purpose in the classroom. So tell us - are M&Ms central to learning to count? Are peanut-containing concessions at swim meets necessary for swimmers to swim? Will your child suffer psychological harm if they are not able to bring cupcakes for their birthday?

  7. I cried through this whole video thank you for sharing. I have a 5 year old son that has a severe peanut allergy and we are having such trouble with the principal just for me asking for them not to allow peanut butter products in his classroom she said it's unfair to the others...hellooo he could die! The school district has no plan and place and they really don't care to get one they feel like his allergy a priority! Help would be greatly appreciated!

  8. Sparkle, it's so very tough to have your child start school. Just know that, even if you don't get every accommodation you're asking for, the odds are that your son will be o.k.

    I do not know a ton about 504 advocacy because we never *had* a 504. However, the ladies on my former chat board would definitely help you out:,4.0.html?PHPSESSID=cc772d56dad6c019bafea6c2f5c3a9fa

    Also, if you're really in dire straits, there is an advocate who works with FA families to negotiate for 504 compliance:

    I've never met Rhonda, but many people speak highly of her assistance.

    Hang in there!

  9. We homeschool because of people like David. I just knew someone like him would pop up and I could not imagine what kind of skill I would need to have to deal with the situation--because my child's LIFE could be determined by what people like him/you would do. Would you send peanuts on purpose if we had a peanut-free classroom? Would you say things to your child and turn them into a bully in my son's classroom? Of all the scenarios I imagined, nothing was worth his life or dealing with someone who doesn't get it. Food in the classroom is not only unnecessary, it's gross. Do people eat in every room of their house? I doubt it. That's why we have "DINING ROOMS!" And though products like Sunbutter are identical to peanut butter, no one is asking for peanut/nut-free schools--just no food in the classroom and places where there shouldn't be food in the first place. When did FOOD become more important than people? And it might be just one child now, but buddy get ready because the rate of allergy is skyrocketing without any sign of slowing down or clue of what is causing it. While other treatments are being studied, the only currently working to build tolerance in food allergic children is OIT/desensitization and good luck finding an allergist or study offering it. There are probably less than 20 in the world. So with 1 in 12 now deathly allergic to food, what happens when it's 6 in 12. How many children have to die before parents and schools understand what is going on and the SIMPLE actions they can implement to avoid killing more children in the classroom? SO glad we homeschool (K12 online).

  10. I agree with you 100%... It doesn't just apply to allergy children. Having non-food related educational activities also speaks to the child obesity problem and children with diabetes. Are we telling our children that it isn't possible to have fun/education without food??!! That having the cupcake at the school Valentines party is more important than every child having a good experience.

    I can't seem to convince my school.... but I won't give up!

  11. Food allergies have ruined everything fun that I remember being FUN. Classroom parties. Birthday treats. Coaches bringing snack mixes to our games. I hope they find a cure soon enough because right now this small minority is running the show.

    1. Yeah! Asshole handicapped kids and their constant demands! Or those non-smokers who think clean air is fair and important!

      It should ALWAYS be about the majority. Why should we protect children? Why should we include them if they had the bad luck to be born different?

      Next thing you know, they'll be telling us we can't beat up the little kids. Taking away ALL our fun...


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