2011-04-21 / Front Page

Central Fulton’s Peanut Debate Rages On

Parents of children with nut allergies plead for nut-free facility
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

On the heels of last month’s announcement that only a small portion of McConnellsburg Elementary will remain “nut free” next year, a group of taxpayers and parents made a final plea to the Central Fulton School Board and administration last Tuesday to keep the entire facility free of peanut and nut products

Visibly emotional during public comment, concerned mother Mindi Graham told to those in attendance the story of how she learned of her son’s life-threatening allergy to nuts. Graham stated her family, including her then 2-year-old son, was sharing a container of mixed nuts. Having only consumed one nut, the reaction occurred almost instantly with choking, an inability to swallow water and small white bumps spreading across the boy’s face.

He was lifeless and unconscious when he arrived at the emergency room, said Graham. Going in an out of shock for an hour, the little boy was eventually sent on to Hershey Medical Center for additional treatment.

“Stand up and say their lives are more valuable than having nuts in school,” the mother stated. “ ... Whether it’s parent satisfaction or student survival, you hold the answer.”

Matthew Wakefield’s eldest son, Elliott, was diagnosed at age two with a nut allergy. Wakefield stated he did not currently have a personal interest in the issue at the time, since his son has outgrown his allergy, but was fortunate his son’s teachers kept him safe.

“What would a jury find in a wrongful death suit? What would the cost be,” Wakefield asked the board. He added from research his guess would be millions plus legal fees as well as a drop by the district’s insurance career.

Being an extremely serious and emotional issue, Wakefield asked the board to keep nut-related products out of the school as best as they could.

On the agenda to give a presentation on nut allergy awareness, school nurse Amy Elvey admitted her son, who is enrolled in kindergarten at McConnellsburg, has a severe nut allergy. She was not only speaking last Tuesday on behalf of her son but all children with related allergies.

According to Elvey, 12 million people suffer from food allergies, and the number of peanut-related allergies have doubled in recent years. A reaction can occur through smell, touch or taste.

A quick reaction time of one to two minutes is required when dealing with individuals suffering from severe and life-threatening allergies, the nurse said. Only epipens and benadryl can be used in the school setting. Several epipens are currently on the market, and district staff would need training on how to use them properly, she said.

“There is no cure for food allergies,” Elvey stated. “After the first reaction, the next ones are usually more severe and happen with more frequency.”

Elvey pointed out that in addition to the extra cost of training faculty on use of epipens, additional cleaning supplies, maintenance employees and further lunch monitoring could be needed in the event the board adheres to last month’s decision to allow nut products in grades one through five next year. Unanimous board action was taken on March 8 to only follow a nut-free provision during the upcoming 2011-12 year but only in the K4- K5 wing. Meanwhile, the remainder of the elementary school, grades one through five, will follow a “504 plan” next year. The “504 Accommodation Plan” of the Americans with Disabilities Act will be implemented for older elementary children and will outline what specific accommodations will be provided in conjunction with their disability, such as an allergic reaction.

Board member Dr. Brent Carlson told Elvey hopefully her son as well as all students with allergies have a proper 504 plan in place. He added if parents feel the plan is not being adhered to, they should immediately contact an administrator or board member.

Board President Cory Gress questioned the school nurse as to what other food allergies may exist in addition to nuts. He followed up his line of questions by stating, “Where do we make an end to this? ... I understand where you’re coming from, but there’s also another side ... . We can’t please everyone.”

Others in attendance during public comment were Loren Leese, Diane Leese, Deb McGarvey, Whitney Haught, Lenore Stains, Myreta Elvey, George Cutchall, Chris Clark, Jamie Wink, Julie Siko and Don Siko.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Carlson asked the board to revisit the peanut issue. He admitted he did not realize their action last month was steering them away from their nut policy.

Board member Linda Garber agreed with Carlson and stated “ideally it would be good to have a nut-free elementary school.”

District Superintendent Dwayne Northcraft and solicitor Jim Schall stated that in preparing the nut issue for last month’s meeting, they spoke to officials from larger districts, such as Chambersburg, which follow the 504 plan.

“All schools look at the issue differently. It goes both ways,” said Schall, who added he could contact Chambersburg again to get an estimate on what additional costs they’ve incurred by allowing nuts into their schools.

“The issue is truly what to do to protect the students,” said Northcraft.

Board member Christopher Hann said the comments made on April 12 were primarily from parents of children with allergies. “I know just as many (parents) on the flip side,” said Hann. “ ... If it were just peanut butter, I wouldn’t have a problem, but it’s other products too like yogurt covered raisins ... .”

“If we’re going to change it, then let’s listen to the parents who don’t have children with food allergies,” Hann concluded.

With student handbooks ready to be sent out in July, a final decision on the issue will likely have to be made by the board no later than May or June. The item was in turn sent to the board’s Policy Committee to review at its next meeting tentatively scheduled for May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

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