Renee Ballou: Feeling safe, at last, in school — thanks to a nut products ban

Last modified: Wednesday, November 06, 2013
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following guest column was written by a seventh-grade student at Stoneleigh Burnham School who is 12 and lives in South Deerfield.

SOUTH DEERFIELD — I have been reading letters to the editor about the tree nut ban in the Amherst schools. I take these letters seriously because I have a life-threatening peanut allergy. I was diagnosed at the age of 3 after suffering from two anaphylactic reactions from eating peanuts.

My parents took me to Boston Children’s Hospital, where I was treated and tested for several years. I am still severely allergic to peanuts and I was told that I will never outgrow my allergy.

A lot of doctors and parents have given their opinions in your pages about the peanut ban, but I wanted you to hear from someone who actually goes to school and suffers from this illness.

When I attended public school, I was told that I had to sit at a peanut-free table. I used to cry before school and sometimes felt physically sick because I was worried about sitting alone.

Because there were peanuts all over my school, I needed a one-on-one aide to follow me around wherever I went, including recess. She had to wipe down surfaces and watch what students ate around me.

Having an aide made me feel different from everyone else. With peanuts all around me, I had to wear my EpiPen on a belt outside of my clothes at all times.

This is because my allergy is so severe that I will stop breathing within two minutes after eating a peanut.

One thing that really surprised me when I read the letters to the editor is that there are doctors who are against peanut bans in schools. They should know how serious an allergy can be and they should want to do everything to prevent a reaction.

I want the doctors and parents to know how it feels to go to a school where peanuts are allowed. Every day I woke up scared that I would die at school.

I couldn’t concentrate on learning because I was always worrying about the PB&J that they served at lunch. I don’t understand why someone would want to put my life at risk just because it is inconvenient for them to pack a peanut-free lunch each day. Students can have peanut products for breakfast and after school.

All I am asking is for students and teachers to try to keep me safe for six hours a day.

Some people say that having a peanut ban in schools does not prepare students for the real world. I disagree with this.

In public, I can choose to leave a place where I feel unsafe because there are peanuts. In school, I cannot leave.

To help me be more independent, my parents have taught me how to read labels and to advocate for myself when I am not in school. I also think that some kids who have an allergy don’t understand how severe their allergy really is and they need adults to protect them when they are at school.

When Stoneleigh Burnham found out about my serious allergy, they decided to eliminate peanuts from the school’s dining hall.

This decision has changed my life. Even though I am in a peanut-free dining hall, I never let my guard down.

I always check ingredients and I have my EpiPen near me at all times.

I know that they are doing their best to protect me and the risk of me having a reaction has been reduced.

I have noticed at Stoneleigh and at other peanut-free schools that there are many other protein-rich foods that can be eaten instead of peanuts.

The definition of community is: “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”

A school is supposed to be a community of learners. I am so grateful that I have the privilege to go to a school that supports me and allows me to learn in a safe environment. I am glad that Amherst is joining my school in keeping peanut-allergy kids safe.