Is Going Peanut-Free
The Answer?

A 7-year-old girl from Virginia died after experiencing an allergic reaction to peanuts (her family believes) at school. Questions are now being raised about where the responsibility lies when an allergic child attends school. Read on to learn more and see what other parents think.

Peanut allergies at school

It's every parent's worst nightmare -- Ammaria Johnson, who attended school in Chesterfield County in Virginia, died of an apparent allergic reaction that occurred at school. Who was responsible for keeping Ammaria safe at school, and should schools become completely nut free?

Peanut exposure

Ammaria fell ill during recess and went to the nurse's office. Once the nurse determined she was suffering from an allergic reaction, the paramedics were dispatched, but by the time they arrived, the girl was in cardiac arrest. She was pronounced dead upon her arrival at the hospital.

It's not known for certain what she was exposed to -- or how -- but her mother said that Ammaria had a peanut allergy, so that is likely the case.

Action plan

If a child has an allergy, suffers from asthma or has another medical issue, parents are often asked to help write an action plan that has steps the school should take in case of exposure or sickness. With a severe food allergy, such as an allergy to peanuts, this will often include medications prescribed by the child's doctor, such as an EpiPen (epinephrine). This medication counteracts anaphylaxis, which if left untreated can be fatal, as it was in Ammaria's case.

It isn't clear why there was no EpiPen in the school's health clinic for Ammaria's use. The school states that one was not brought in for her, but her mother insists that the school refused to accept hers. Chesterfield County schools require that parents "provide the school with all daily and emergency medications prescribed by the student's health-care provider."

Going peanut-free

To avoid potential deadly reactions, many schools in the nation have decided to go completely peanut-free, meaning there are no peanuts or peanut butter served in the school cafeteria. It also means that children are not allowed to bring in peanut products in their sack lunches, and this is a bone of contention with some kids and parents.

Jessica, mother of five, feels that school-wide restrictions aren't fair to kids who don't have allergies. "If you eliminate peanuts for kids that are deathly allergic to peanuts, would you eliminate dairy for kids allergic to dairy?" she asked. "If we start eliminating things, then we have to basically eliminate everything and cater to everyone."

Keep them at home?

Some feel that while nut-free schools are fine, they still wouldn't fully trust others to keep their child safe. "There's no way that I would put one of my kids in jeopardy by thinking that other parents, other children or teachers who are not affected and already overburdened would be able to prevent exposure," said Jenna from New Jersey.

Erika, mom of one, agrees. "It seems like even with a nut-free school it could be a dangerous environment for kids with extremely severe allergies," she shared. "Do you really trust little kids to wash their hands properly after breakfast and for that child not to give your kiddo a high five later in the day?"

No nuts, no way

Other moms vehemently disagree. Angela from Missouri explained, "Peanuts and nuts should be banned in a school if there is even only one child who might die from being exposed." Heather, mother of one, feels the same. "Every child deserves to be able to eat in the school cafeteria without the risk of death," she stated.

Ashley may have summed it up best. "Life or death," she said. "Really, is it that hard to pack a different kind of sandwich?"

Weigh in

Should schools with peanut-allergic kids in attendance ban peanuts? Or is that taking it too far?

More info on food allergies

Why are food allergies among children on the rise?
Do you have a food allergy?
Recipes for food allergies


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Comments on "Child with peanut allergy dies at school"

Alex February 25, 2014 | 10:49 AM

Banning is an option. Minimizing risk is the goal. I don't expect nuts to be banned or other Food Allergens, but would support school if they choose to. I do however expect Classrooms to food free and safe accommodations for lunch and all Teachers to be trained how to recognize Food Allergic reaction and us Medicines.

Alicia September 10, 2013 | 4:39 PM

I don't think it's a good idea to call for peanut free environments, because you're putting all your eggs in that basket. I don't think it teaches children with these life threatening allergies to care properly for themselves, because it's showing them that somebody else will always be fixing it instead of them. What happens if the parents and child decide not to take proper precautions, and another child breaks the rules and brings peanuts etc in? As a child with no allergies I may not have been aware of the severity of allergies like this and thought "why does this apply to me?" Some children have peanut butter and jelly sandwich because that is all their parents can afford and those parents may consider the health and well being over their own child before somebody else's with food allergies. It needs to go both ways. Children with allergies should be taught as soon as possible what foods to avoid and not to eat anything AT ALL prepared by somebody else, even if they swear up and down it's "safe." Children with no allergies should be taught how severe allergies are and to not share their lunches. Peanuts exist. They exist at work, in restaurants, on planes, on buses, in college. Teaching a child now that everywhere "should be" peanut free may give them a false sense of security and may have potentially deadly consequences in the future.

Veronica September 05, 2013 | 11:44 PM

It's been a lot of years. My 30 year old had several allergies as a child which would bring on asthma from cold damp weather, upper respiratory infection, tomato, chocolate, peanut and Yellow #5 food coloring and a variety of trees and plants. This list I developed after keeping a food diary, going back over what he had eaten prior to an attack and also allergy testing. He missed 21 days of kindergarten. His favorite food was peanut butter. At the time I didn't realize that letting a child eat the same food for lunch every day could develop an allergy. He would have asthma attacks when kids would share foods with him and I would have to pick him up from school. We were fortunate to have the fire dept next door to the school. I had to tell the school over and over not to let him share with anyone and to call paramedics if he developed severe asthma. After reading this I realize I am lucky he didn't die. I took him off peanut butter for a year. His allergy went away and he can eat it occasionally but he does not eat it every day. He seems to have grown out of all of his allergies. What I learned is that potentially allergic foods should not be eaten more than every 4 days. Of course some people can never eat them. I am so sorry for the loss of this little girl and my heart goes out to her parents. Hopefully our schools will become much more proactive about this problem. I am forwarding this to my daughter who teaches 2nd grade. Everyone should become aware of this problem. Every life is precious.

Jahan August 16, 2013 | 10:36 AM

My son is severely allergic to peanuts and dairy, and carries an epi pen at all times. Jesse, I wouldn't expect people to go without dairy at school, even though my son can go into anaphylactic shock just by coming in contact with someone who has eaten a dairy product. I expect my son and his teachers to take the proper precautions so he can eat separately from others and they can wash their hands after they eat. The difference is that if my son is in a room with a peanut product, he goes into anaphylactic shock. Last year he got sent to the hospital in an ambulance because someone in his class opened a bag of peanut butter crackers. Yesterday, he had a sever reaction (eyes swollen, with puss coming out, hives everywhere) because someone in his class opened a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while they were outside on separate ends of a picnic table. He's still at home because he hasn't recovered yet. I believe that schools should be peanut-free if it means saving one child's life. My son is scared to go to school every day because he doesn't know if the decision of one parent could send him to the hospital or even kill him that day. That's not ok. I'm scared every time I leave my son in someone else's care, or bring him into an area with a lot of people. I can't afford to stay at home with him and home-school him. Peanut butter is one of my favorite foods in the world, and I have to give it up. That's hard, but I will survive if I don't eat peanut butter. My son won't, if I do.

Momwhodidn'tplanthislifeeither January 03, 2013 | 6:39 AM

Clearly Jenna and Erika do not have kids with peanut allergy. I'm sure they'd feel differently if they did. By the way, the law requires a free and appropriate public education for every child in the "least restrictive" environment possible. No, they shouldn't just be homeschooled, because this is "most restrictive". Schools need proper procedures to ensure the safety of children with life threatening food allergies. Note that some schools don't even have school nurses - making it even more essential to significantly reduce the risk that a child will come into contact with the life threatening allergen. It's just the adults that have issues, the children never do.

Kiki September 01, 2012 | 8:31 PM

My nephew has a heart condition that renders his immune system much more susceptible to vaccine-related illnesses. So if it's fair to expect an entire school to accommodate one child with a peanut allergy, then it should be fair for my sister to expect everyone at her son's school to accommodate him and make sure they are all completely vaccinated.

Karen Reynoso January 30, 2012 | 9:24 AM

Jesse,Do you have a child with an allergy? It seems you do not understand.

Karen Reynoso January 30, 2012 | 9:21 AM

I agree to ban peanuts from all schools, every day when my daughter goes to school I worry there are a lot of allergy s but peanut is a deadly one.

Sadaboutamerica January 15, 2012 | 9:26 PM

Most allergens are not deadly to inhale. Peanuts for children like my son are deadly if someone else eats them and those fine particles are inhaled. So, yes I do not feel it is unreasonable to make accomadamtions for him that are no more burdensome to a budget then a wheelchair ramp or a class for deaf or differeny challenged people. Just another step to make life a little more level and accessible to everyone. Please it's only a small time of your day to save my child's life.

Monica January 10, 2012 | 7:21 AM

@Jesse -- peanuts are a big deal because the allergy is potentially deadly. I think that any potentially deadly allergen should be eliminated. Peanuts are especially dangerous because the particles can contaminate surfaces and the air itself, and just a tiny bit can kill an allergic child. Every child has the right to a free public education and has the right to eat in the cafeteria without the risk of death, don't you agree?

Jesse January 10, 2012 | 12:40 AM

But what about other kids who have allergies. Milk, wheat, and fish are potential allergens too. Will we need to eliminate all those things from schools too?

Christine Williams January 09, 2012 | 7:58 PM

I agree with Ashelly. Even if only for one child, peanuts should be banned from public schools. After hearing of this tragedy I will never send anything "peanut" with my daughter to school again. My thoughts and prayers go out to this little girls family, friends and the staff at Hopkins Elementary.

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