My sister has had lots of issues with the public school her kids attend and their peanut allergy policies. Her older child is allergic to dairy. At school peanuts and products made in facilities that manufacture other peanut products are banned. They have a classroom snack every day, each kid is expected to bring their own snack and those snacks can only come from the approved list. She asked me for suggestions on what to say to the school to try and get the polices to budge and I'm at a loss.
It wasn't that hard for me to deal with it. (I didn't have exactly the same experience as yours, but I have had a lot of situations that are very similar to yours.) You just need to approach this with the right perspective.
I'm going to assume that so far your sister just has this generic policy in her hands and hasn't had a chance to talk to anyone face to face. (I apologize if I guessed incorrectly.) I suggest that your sister set up a couple of face to face (hour-long) appointments with principal and teacher before school begins in the fall. Unless the school is so enmeshed in unthinking bureaucracy, it might be a lot easier than you think.
First, I'd talk with the principal and the teacher, and possibly the school nurse. I would state that I don't want to change the policy, I just want to work out accommodations for my own child. I wouldn't go in all confrontational. I would simply state that my dd has dairy allergies, and that, when combined with the list of peanut-free products, it severely limits my dd's choice of snacks.
First, I'd start by building up cred.
I would start out by saying that my own experience with my dd's dairy allergy gives me some experience and a little of the awareness of how seriously to take peanut allergies.
I would next state that, as a parent who constantly reads the labels for dairy, I am already aware of how to read the labels, and am already hypervigilant about reading the labels, and can start learning to read the labels for peanuts. (If I had any personal experience with friends with peanut allergies, I'd also explain that I am familiar with bringing snacks that my peanut allergic friends are comfortable with eating.)
I would say that my dd needs some very simple accommodations for her dairy allergies, or she will not be able to learn effectively during school. I would tell the school, that I am confident that we can make these accommodations very easy, without requiring any additional work from the teachers.
Then I would ask for what I want from my dd. If the entire class eats the same snack, I would tell the principal that my dd will bring her own snack everyday and be instructed to not share under any circumstances. To make me sound more reasonable, I would tell the principal the various ideas I had, and ask the teacher to pick which ideas would be the least additional work for the staff. For example, I could propose that my child bring things that contain no peanuts/peanut products in the ingredients label. Or, I could send a list of what snacks I would send with my child, including complete ingredients list, at the beginning of the year, for any peanut-allergic parents to review. Or, I could tuck in a note each day with the list of ingredients in the day's snack, so the teacher could always check to make sure that the almond butter indeed does not contain any peanuts.
Finally, I would tell the principal that I realize that FERPA does not allow the principal to disclose information about the peanut allergic child/children, but I would ask the principal to give these parents my contact info, and ask the parents to call/email me this week so that the peanut-allergic parents and I can discuss any concerns that they have so that we can make sure that my accommodations will not jeopardize the peanut-allergic child.
Finally, I would bring all of my ideas to the appointment in writing, to give to everyone present at the meeting, and ask them to help me brainstorm some more ideas that would work for the teachers.
In the end, what will probably happen is that the school will pick a few of your ideas. In fact, after checking with the peanut-allergic parents, it is possible (depending on whether the child is airborne allergic to the peanuts or not) that the parents might very well be fine with you just promising to swear on a stack of Bibles to read the ingredients list everyday. This has usually proven to be the case, after I have talked to the peanut-allergic parent and they understand how careful I am.
Just go in to the office with a can-do attitude of working together as a team to solve the problem, and you will probably get what you need. Your sister don't necessarily need a change in the official policy, and she certainly will not get very far by complaining. She just needs her challenges to mesh with the peanut allergies.
At my dd's school at least, I've found that face-to-face meetings (backed up with a written summary of what I want to cover) is much more effective than a letter of complaint.
Edited to add:
It is my experience that the peanut-allergy parents are more than happy to work with me to figure out how to make their peanut allergy work with our dairy allergy. Peanut allergy parents want to protect their children, but they don't want to isolate their children, so they know best what precautions will or will not work for their kid in the real world.
There is an enormous variability with food allergies, even anaphalactic peanut allergies. It is a huge spectrum. For example, for some peanut allergic children even breathing peanut dust is life-threatening, but many are fine with it. Yes, there are children who cannot touch even traces of peanut, but there are peanut-allergic children who don't even require other children to wash their hands after eating peanuts, and such peanut-allergic parents are comfortable with that. So which one does your sister's dd's school have? You won't know just by reading the school's one-size-fits all policy, which was probably written by a lawyer, and not by the parents of the peanut-allergic children that are actually in the school. You won't know until you go spend an hour talking with the principal.
What I have found is that if I have a good heart to heart talk with the one or two other parents with food allergies, including peanut allergies, we two families can come up with a solution that satisfies both of us. The key is for your sister to initiate communication with the school, and possibly the peanut-allergy family/families, so that the peanut-allergy families are reassured that their child is not jeopardized by your child's daily snack.
It's no big deal and easy to do, but parents don't seem to talk to other parents any more, so schools design these worst-case-scenario policies, instead.
Edited by emilysmama - 7/24/12 at 10:17am