Managing food allergy in schools remains a challenge. There is little evidence to guide school officials in managing and balancing both the needs of the 8% of children with food allergy, as well as the children without food allergy. Recent data from the March 2014 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health demonstrated that there is no clear parental consensus on how to manage such issues. Striking a balance that allows all parties to feel their needs are validated is a tremendously difficult task, but mutually acceptable solutions are accomplishable.
In this light, recent comments made by elected a Clawson, Michigan school board member at their November Board of Education Meeting are disheartening and inappropriate. The board member suggested that students with food allergies “should be shot” as a means of accommodating their health concerns. Obviously, she was joking, but the comments were insensitive. Food allergy is not a laughing matter, and these children should not serve as a target of derision. Here are a few reasons why food allergies must be taken seriously within the education community.
- Food allergy is a rapidly growing chronic condition, affecting as many as 8% of children. Reactions can be quite severe, potentially fatal, and terrifying to experience. There are no cures or treatments for food allergies.
- Children, especially those with chronic health condition are fragile and vulnerable. They should never be the butt of a joke. This sets a horrible tone that it is acceptable to make light of someone, and demonstrates ignorance of and lack of empathy for those living with the particular condition.
- Accommodating multiple health concerns within a school is challenging, but not an excuse for a public display of intolerance of any student for any reason, including a health condition, religion, race, or income.
- School districts are a community, and members of the community must work together to solve problems. Administrators must lead by example. Derisive attitudes by school board members are counterproductive.
- Federal disability law affords children with food allergy and other conditions the right to seek accommodation. It is the school’s legal duty to comply as such.
I’d like to invite members of the Clawson school board, or other public education officials who are interested, to spend a day with us in clinic at the University of Michigan Food Allergy Center, to better understand the challenges associated with living with food allergy. When you interact directly with these families, it’s hard not to empathize. We all should work together to promote mutually beneficial strategies to deal with this growing epidemic.
Matthew Greenhawt, MD, is Board-certified in pediatrics and allergy and immunology. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the U-M. A graduate of Tufts University, where he earned both his medical and Master of Business Administration degrees, he completed a fellowship in allergy and immunology at the U-M in 2008. He also received a Masters of Science in Health and Healthcare Policy at the U-M Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 2012. Dr. Greenhawt is a health services researcher, with an eye towards using his work to influence food allergy related health-care policy. His specific research interests include parental understanding of food allergy risk, utilization of food allergy diagnostic testing (including emerging molecular allergy diagnostic testing) and oral food challenges, emerging food allergy therapeutics, optimal strategies for diagnosis and treatment of Eosinophilic Esophagitis, and Quality of Life among families with food allergy and Eosinophilic Esophagitis.
University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.