Editorial: Amherst’s stance on nut products sound, but difficult
Amherst officials have good intentions in attempting to keep peanuts, tree nuts and all products containing them out of the schools. They are trying to protect children who have severe, potentially fatal allergic reactions when they come in contact with those foods, or any residue from them.
On the other hand, peanut butter is such a staple in many children’s diets that it will be a hardship for some families to come up with a palatable alternative for their youngsters’ lunch boxes. We sympathize with that as many children are picky eaters and parents often struggle to find nutritious, inexpensive foods that they like. Peanut butter often fills the bill. So, it is not an easy call.
The decision by Amherst Superintendent Maria Geryk to declare her district an “allergy-aware” school system in excluding these products came after a year-long study by a subcommittee of the schools’ wellness committee. That group concluded that since 100 of the 2,871 children in the Amherst schools have nut allergies, it was the way to go in their quest to make the schools safe places.
The Hampshire Regional School District took similar action in September. Amherst officials don’t like the idea of segregating allergic students at nut-free lunch tables, as some other area districts do, namely Northampton and Easthampton. Wellness committee chairman Faye Brady said that runs counter to the Amherst schools’ commitment not to isolate students with disabling conditions.
Amherst parents got word last week that the new policy was to take effect Oct. 15. Geryk decided to postpone the start date to Oct. 28, to give families time to come up with alternatives.
Some argue that relatively few students are driving a decision that affects many and that seems unfair to them.
However, Amherst officials say that it is the life-threatening nature of the allergic reaction that worries them. While other allergies, such as bee stings, carry similar dangers, Brady said that the wellness committee, which includes a nurse, determined that nut sensitivity is the most common hazardous condition and hence should be where it focused.
Others make the case that children with nut allergies are not protected by nut bans in society at large and so should not be afforded special care in school. School, however, is the place where young children, who are less able than older people to watch out for themselves, spend a large part of their lives. As they grow up, managing their own safety gets easier. So, it doesn’t seem out of line that school officials would try to help.
Still, we think it would be prudent for Amherst to give the policy a trial run for three or so months to see how families cope with the change. Then, officials should seek feedback before deciding whether to extend it.