Allergies cause schools to consider banning certain foods
Gloucester County Public Schools may ban cupcakes, and other consumable treats, from classrooms due to the health risk to an increasing number of children with food allergies.
Shirley Chirch, school division environmental health and safety manager, told the board Tuesday that she has seen a 32 percent increase in food allergies among students since she began tracking the numbers in 2010.
There were 50 new cases this year alone, according to Bethel Elementary nurse Robin Zophy, including 10 newly diagnosed cases among high school students.
Dr. Angela Hogan, an allergist with Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, said food allergy reactions can range from mild to cardiac arrest or anaphylaxis. She said peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish were the foods most likely to cause the most severe reactions.
Hogan estimated one in 13 children has a food allergy and said 48 percent of food allergy reactions among school children occur in the classroom, compared to 15 percent in the cafeteria and 10 percent outdoors. She related several instances of children having fatal reactions to foods that were thought to be safe for them.
The board also heard from a parent whose fifth grader has asthma, food and environmental allergies. She said he gets left out every time there’s a school party, even though she substitutes safe brownies for him that the school nurse keeps in a freezer. “It’s a life and death thing for a kid like Jonathan,” the parent said, “and it makes school not fun.”
“Why can’t we plan activities that everyone can share in equally?” Zophy asked. “We can teach children that food does not need to be part of every celebration.”
Zophy asked the board to consider adopting the policy recommended by the school division’s health advisory board. That policy would state that “no homemade or commercially prepared treats or food items intended to be shared by students will be allowed during instructional time.”
“We’d like to move in that direction,” Chirch said in support of the ban. She said school administrators also favor banning brought-in treats. “The principals said we don’t want any food. They don’t want to have to read labels, they don’t want the responsibility.”