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

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.

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.

Related

Josh Mintzer: Gives thanks for column on peanut allergies

Monday, November 11, 2013

To the editor: My most sincere thanks for publishing Renee Ballou’s guest column, helping to shed light on the many challenges that children with severe peanut allergies must face in their day-to-day lives. As a parent of a child with multiple food allergies, including and especially peanut and tree nuts — though thankfully not to the same degree thus far …

Legacy Comments2

Renee, thank you for writing such an informative letter of what children with nut allergies go through. It certainly puts a different perspective to this serious, life threatening allergy than I have seen in prior letters to the editor, and hopefully, will convince other schools the serious implications of allowing nuts. I, truthfully, have been on the edge as to bans on nuts and your letter has helped push me toward being a believer.

Renee, What a wonderful article. I am the mom of a 3 year old recently diagnosed with a very severe allergy. I wish our school district would go peanut free so she doesn't have to feel different as well. Thank you for your thoughts. I too have read letters to the editor and have almost cried hearing other parents opinions of the concept of going nut free. They just don't get it do they? Well I get it. I'm so happy school is now a safe place for you. Take care sweet girl!

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