Peanut Allergy Protest a 'Misunderstanding,' Florida School District Says

Filed under: Medical Conditions, In The News, Health

Officials for a Florida school district are saying that parents protesting efforts to protect one student from a peanut allergy is -- in a nutshell -- all a big misunderstanding.

A student at Edgewater Elementary School, part of the Volusia County School District in DeLand, Fla., has such a severe food allergy that her first-grade classmates are asked to wash their hands before entering their classrooms in the morning and again at lunch.

They also were required to rinse their mouths after lunch, but district spokeswoman Nancy Wait tells ParentDish that requirement was recently changed to simply wiping their faces with a wet cloth -- a change made even before parents decided to protest the district's efforts to keep the unnamed female student safe.

"The same procedures were in place last year, and they have been in place all of this year," Wait says. "This is really a misunderstanding by some parents."

Some parents are saying the hand-washing is taking away from the children's instructional time, FoxNews.com reports, and some picketed the school last week, carrying signs that read, "Our Kids Have Rights Too."

"On average, it's probably taking a good 30 minutes out of the day. That's my child's education. Thirty minutes could be a whole subject," Carrie Starkey tells FoxNews.com. "We understand that they need to protect this girl, but these measures are just extreme. Procedures need to be set in place, but not procedures that will take away from our children's education."

But Wait says that simply isn't the case, adding that while she understands parents' concerns over the loss of instructional time, in general "washing hands is a good thing."

"It does take a little bit of time and there is a legitimate concern about cutting down instructional time," she tells ParentDish.

The teachers in the two classrooms affected have the process down to a science, Wait adds. Girls and boys line up at separate sinks and wash their hands and faces as efficiently as possible.

Parents also believed that peanut butter was banned from the school and that outside food was no longer welcome at holiday parties, all in service of one child's needs.

"Some people seem to believe that there aren't any peanut butter and jelly sandwiches being served in the cafeteria, but that isn't true," Wait says.

As for the parties, Wait tells ParentDish that it was a decision made by the teachers to focus the holiday celebrations around crafts instead of food, for general health and wellness reasons.

She adds that there was additional confusion over the fact that the first-graders are no longer being served a morning snack -- and that some parents even believed that teachers were washing their children's hands and faces with Clorox wipes.

Instead, Wait says, desks are wiped down with the cleaning cloths and snack time was nixed for scheduling reasons.

"There is no snack this year at the first-grade level, and some parents thought that was because of the peanut allergy," she tells ParentDish. "But it's because of where their lunch time falls. There's just no time to eat a snack beforehand."

Wait says district officials are taking one-on-one meetings with the upset parents to explain the rationale behind the preventative measures, and that there are four children at Edgewater Elementary who are sensitive to peanuts.

The little girl who sparked the controversy is the only student whose allergy is life-threatening -- and, under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the district is legally obliged to accommodate her medical needs.

Each student who falls under the purview of the ADA has a medical plan, developed in conjunction with his or her physicians, on file with the school. Wait says the school is required to comply with that plan.

This particular pupil's medical plan also called for a peanut-sniffing dog to search the school, looking for traces of the nut. Wait says that did, indeed, take place last week, while the students were on spring break.

The bottom line, Wait tells ParentDish, is that the district does whatever it can to balance the needs of one against the needs of many.

"We have moved so far beyond isolating children with disabilities," she says. "We are required to provide her with an education and to make accommodations for her disability."

David Bailey, the father of the unnamed student, could not be reached for comment. He did, however, tell FoxNews.com that he kept his daughter home on the day of the protests.

"They are against her," Bailey tells FoxNews.com. "This is all against her."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.