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The Globe and Mail

Florida parents protest peanut-allergy precautions

Nearly every Canadian parent – and probably their kids as well – know not to pack food that contains peanut in the school lunch.

In Florida, however, a group of parents balked at the list of rules put in place to protect one girl with a life-threatening peanut allergy. They even went so far as to picket outside the school, with signs scrawled with slogans such as, "Our children are special too."

In response, Edgewater Elementary School dropped a requirement that kids rinse their mouths if they had eaten peanut butter at home. But students must still take precautions such as leaving their lunches outside and washing their hands before class.

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The parents' argue that the rules cut into academic time.

"I guess it's not fair for one kid to have a set of standards that the rest of the kids have to abide by," said one unnamed dad, stopped outside the school in his car by CNN. Another dad defended the school to the news network saying, "It's protecting the safety of the child – everybody has the right to an education, so I don't see what the problem is."

The case highlights a burgeoning debate about whether we are overreacting to the risk of food allergies. How far should schools and public places go to protecting people? An online poll conducted by the CNN blog Eatocracy last September suggested limited support for forced measures: 33 per cent of respondents said that parents should come up with a solution for their kids, not the school. (Another 16 per cent clicked, "Touch luck, kid. My kids shouldn't go without because of your allergies.")

Of course, that's easy to say – unless it's your child who is at risk. Although they are rare, there have been tragic cases, such as the story of Sabrina, a 13-year old who died from an allergic reaction after she ate French fries at her high school in Pembroke, Ont. (A cooking utensil had been accidentally contaminated.)

An Ontario law, passed after her death, mandates several measures that school boards must take to protect students. They include requiring principals to reduce exposure to allergens, implement procedures to educate parents and create an individual plan for each student with an allergy. In many schools in Ontario – and across the country – those prevention plans have meant peanut-free policies.

While there has to be a balance between group and individual responsibility, some might say there's a broader lesson in good citizenship to be taught to little kids who are watching out for the safety of vulnerable peers – even if they are a minority.

What do you think?

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