PORTLAND, Ore. -- Every school in the state would better accommodate children with food allergies, if some Oregon moms get their way. They’re working with lawmakers to create legislation for uniform policies.
Jeanette Baxter co-leads No Nuts Moms group of Portland, and in some ways, she feels lucky. Her 6-year-old daughter, Mary, attends a school in Estacada that keeps the first-grade classroom nut-free, doesn’t serve peanuts in the cafeteria and requires children to wash their hands often.
The school accommodated Mary even more after she went to the emergency room because of nut residue on a desk.
But Baxter wants to make it easier for all parents in Oregon to see change, instead of leaving it up to each district.
“We would like uniform policies so a kid can go to school here in Estacada, and then if mom and dad move to Salem, they know they have the same ability to keep their kid safe,” Baxter said. “They don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
Aaryn Peterson, who is also part of the support group for parents, drives 30 minutes each way to take her 9-year-old daughter to a charter school that will better accommodate her food allergy needs.
Food allergies are affecting more families today than a decade ago. Now, one in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom, has a potentially life-threatening food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research and Education. These parents feel the prevalence of the problem is more reason to better accommodate their children's needs.
“You wouldn’t tell somebody who’s blind, you should probably be home-schooled,” Baxter said. “Just because it has to do with food, doesn’t mean they’re any less disabled.”
The group is not asking schools to ban certain foods, but they want the following implemented across the state:
- Allergen-free classrooms upon request
- Less or no food in classrooms overall
- Staff training
- Emergency EpiPens at every school
They’ve been in touch with Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek’s office, where a staff member told KATU they’re working to point the group in the right direction. However, Kotek’s office said legislation will likely not get through in 2014.
Fifteen other states already have some type of food allergy policy for schools, including the state of Washington. Washington lawmakers passed a law in 2009 requiring a uniform policy for things like staff training and emergency medications. Both Oregon and Washington have laws allowing schools to stockpile EpiPens in case of an emergency, but neither requires schools to have them.
The CDC also released voluntary guidelines for schools last year.
“While I can appreciate people love peanut butter, and it’s a comfort food, we’re asking for a couple hours in the day to go without something,” Baxter said. “I'm pretty sure your kid would be really sad to know his peanut butter sandwich killed my daughter, and that's just the reality of it.”