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Monday, June 09, 2008

School Allergies

When it comes to allergies, it seems that very few people are unaffected. We all at the very least know SOMEONE with an allergy if we ourselves fall into the rare category of "no known allergies" (since it's impossible to be 100% sure). More often than not, these victims of allergies are children - with the list of allergens growing larger and larger as more and more children are having reactions.

But where do we draw the line? Who is supposed to have the freedoms?

I speak, of course, regarding the widespread "allergy bans" going on in schools today. With the number of children needing to carry epinephrine just in case of a reaction during the school day, at what point does the matter become one for the schools themselves or even the government to make a ruling to force the schools to take action?

Frankly, I'm asking you.

This isn't one of my usual musings followed by my opinion that certainly leads in one direction and mocks anyone going the other direction. At best, I can attempt to mock both directions, since I don't know which side of the fence I'm leaning.

On the one hand, there are now millions of children who are deathly allergic to common items. In fact, eight foods account for 90% of all allergic reactions — peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition says food allergies lead to 150 deaths, 30,000 emergency room visits and 2,000 hospitalizations each year.

One can find it easy to argue in favor of "children who could die" - we as a society apparently feel the worst when a child dies, prefering to take the optimistic route of the endless potential for good that has been shattered by ending that life too soon rather than a pessimistic approach of "that baby could have grown up to be a mass-murderer, so nice work there, tree nuts." We don't like the imagery of sending a child into a potential death zone, full of products that could have been made in a factory that may contain peanut dust, hoping each day that it isn't her last.

But at what point do we bother to stand up for the kids who enjoy products made in peanut-dust-offender factories?

On that other hand, researchers are suggesting that the cause of the dramatic increase in childhood allergies is that parents are simply overprotecting their precious snowflakes, leading their immune system to become the equivelant of an ignorant hillbilly bigot (I'm not saying that all hillbillies are bigots or ignorant, or that all bigots are hillbillies, but that these immune systems are all three), too dumb to discern friendly peanut bits from infectious bacteria and takes a sawed-off shotgun to the whole danged lot of 'em and requires a lot of medication to get them to calm the hell down.

That in mind, when does the bad parenting spread from the above lack of building their child's immune system to demanding that other children and parents bend to their whims to protect their precious snowflake from the evil peanut dust? When does a school have the right to yield to their ear-splitting wails and deprive the other precious snowflakes their right to eat a PB&J? We already mess with the school lunch system enough, but now we have to tack on regulations about what outside food is brought in via a child's homemade lunch? The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act may do just that - regulating all food contents allowed to be present inside the school.

Frankly, just upon writing what I thought would be an unbiased look at both sides of the argument, it seems I've stumbled upon the side I lean towards.

I don't think the government should interfere. I don't think the schools should have to regulate this. I think precious snowflakes belong in "precious snowflake schools" that have volunteered to mandate these things, rather than being forced to.

First of all, we should be paying a little more attention to students bringing GUNS, KNIVES, WEAPONS, DRUGS and other illegal things to school first and foremost. I mean the REAL dangerous stuff. I knew a kid in my high school class who got suspended for having a HAMMER in his LOCKER. Kid you not. I also know a kid in my high school class who got expelled for having alcohol in his prom limo (and being drunk), one who got suspended for smoking pot within 30 yards of the school, and two who were expelled for making a fake bomb threat (though in their defense, it got us out of attending that stupid rally, even if it did get moved to later date). These are the things our school officials should be caring about rather than the potential threat of a Reese's peanut butter cup.

I guess this is where I descend into my usual hate-filled tirades, or at least making statements that offend people.

I'm hoping that the writer of this article was intending to rally sympathy for this child when the following was written:

Danielle is terrified to attend school on the days following big candy holidays like Halloween and Easter because students bring peanut butter cups and other goodies with them.

Her nut allergy is so severe that she can go into shock if a child across a table or a school bus aisle eats peanut butter candy. She takes four allergy medications every morning and carries two pens of self-injectable epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, everywhere she goes in case she starts to have a reaction.

"Having peanuts in my face is like having a loaded gun held to your head," said Danielle, who estimates that during the past school year she suffered 20 reactions that landed her in the emergency room or a clinic for breathing treatments.

Call me an asshole if you will (go ahead, it wouldn't be the first time and it won't be the last), but this just sounds to me like someone who wasn't meant to live with the rest of us. Like Mother Nature (or Darwin) is trying to finish the job that these overprotective parents neglected to start. The kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't get to grow up and breed. The kid who can't look at a peanut without exploding probably shouldn't, either. I don't want to jump straight to "put this child out of her misery" or "let's kill all these allergy kids" - but when you're faced with that kind of story, doesn't that pop into your mind for like AT LEAST A SECOND?

I'm willing to jump straight to "give them their own schools", though. Rather than detract from everyone ELSE'S learning with the constant jabbing of epi-pens and time delays over reminders against tree nuts or searching lunches for deadly peanut dust - assign one school (or have one volunteer) to be peanut-free. Bam, move those kids there. You can't argue that it's financially-mean to these parents to have to send their kid to a farther-away school or something, because I'm sure that the cost of 20 E.R. visits during one school year is way more costly.

The real conclusion is that this whole situation is one more reason why I don't want to have kids right now. And why I probably don't like YOUR kids. And why I'm glad my parents let me eat things that fell on the floor or were JUST past their expiration dates.

What do you think? Should schools get to decide? Should the government? Should they just be sent to their own allergy-free schools? Should they just be put out of their misery because almost dying 20 times hasn't gotten the message across yet?

(The article that sparked this rant)

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