Child with peanut allergy dies at school

Jan 9, 2012 at 11:30 a.m. ET

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