Dilemmas about Peanut Free Tables at School

By staff

These days when you walk into a school, it is inevitable that somewhere along the halls you will see at least one sign that says “Nut Free Classroom” or “Peanut Free Zone.” Often these areas flow into the lunchroom, and more and more our schools are setting aside peanut free tables in the lunchroom. These are tables where children with peanut allergies can have their lunch with no worries of peanut residue or oils contaminating their food or getting on their hands. These tables are a good idea, but as most good ideas do, this one comes with debate.

A major point of dispute surrounds the question of who decides if children with allergies have to sit at the peanut free tables. Is it the school nurse, the teacher, the parent or the child himself? Maybe kids can go there only if someone in their class has peanut products, or do they go there everyday regardless?

Ideally, it should be left up to the parents, and parents should enforce this. If you are not comfortable with your child spending every lunch hour at a separate table from his class, speak up. Or vice versa, if you are not comfortable having your child sit with everyone else and want a peanut free table in your lunchroom, speak up. In some schools, the administration or the lunchroom staff will mandate this, but it is ultimately the parent’s choice.

Whether to sit there or not may depend on the age of the child or the severity of the allergy. It also depends on the class rules (or school rules). Are peanuts and peanut products even allowed? Are the other students aware of the allergy and the severity? One option is to enforce that your child not sit near anyone with peanuts or products (residue is a factor, so this needs to be taken into consideration as well). Maybe your child can wash his spot specifically before sitting there, or have a lunchroom worker do that, and be able to move seats if someone with a peanut product is next to him.

Lunch is a very social time in school, so if a child is isolated to a peanut free table, he loses some of his privileges of social time. It is one of the few times to talk freely with friends throughout the day. Maybe one close friend can come with your child each day to the special table. There are lots of options with the peanut free tables; it’s not just black and white.

One thing to remember, tree nut allergies should not be lumped into peanut allergies. Unless you are having a completely “nut” free table, don’t combine the two. Though tree nuts hold the same dangers as peanut allergies (residue, oils, etc), the two can’t be combined because many kids with tree nut allergies eat lots of peanut butter and vice versa.

To be the most successful, it all just needs to be voluntary. Have the table available, let the parents and the kids decide if they will sit there or not. Plenty of children (and parents) are at ease as long as no one is eating peanut butter right next to them. Yet, having a peanut free table available provides comfort to many families with allergies. An answer to a readers question at About.com provides some more information on the reasoning behind this.

Rarely does a new plan come without controversy, or simply questions of the best way of implementation; the more we look at the arguments, the easier it will be to institute a successful plan. With or without controversy, it’s all about schools making an effort to be safe for everyone. Whether it is a peanut free zone, table or lunchroom, schools usually listen to the needs of their students and families, so the best way for them to do this is, well, education.

- Heather Legg

19 Comments »

Anita Hermalin:

I have heard that inhaled peanuts can be deadly. So a clean table would not totally solve the problem. I sympathize with parents of these allergic kids but you cannot expect a peanut butter free lunchroom. Perhaps they need a separate lunchroom. If it is so dangerous one cannot worry about socialization.

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