By Angelica Ingram
Every year around Halloween eight-year-old Maya Johnson gets nervous.
A Grade 3 student at Archie Stouffer Elementary School Maya isn’t frightened by the scary costumes or haunting decorations she sees around the neighbourhood.
The young girl is scared because treats containing peanuts can be found almost everywhere.
Since she was just a baby Maya has been deathly allergic to peanuts something her family and friends are very used to accommodating.
But as Maya has learned it’s not always easy staying away from the item that could send her into anaphylactic shock should it be contacted.
In an effort to help her daughter Christina Allore is spreading the word on the dangers of living with a severe peanut allergy.
A registered nurse Allore first noticed her daughter was reacting strangely to peanuts at the young age of one and a half.
“We found out on Labour Day we had all gone out for brunch” said Allore. “My older daughter was about to start JK the very next day and I was having a discussion with my family … saying it totally sucks because I can’t even send peanuts because she goes to a nut free school. I had this totally different opinion on it and as we were sitting there in the restaurant Maya had an allergic reaction.”
Life changed for the family that day as nut products now never make their way into the house.
While awareness for severe allergies has come a long way in seven years Allore still thinks there is more that can be done.
In an effort to get more people educated on the dangers of peanuts Allore has written a letter that is being circulated to all parents of kids at ASES and has been posted on the school’s website.
“It’s one thing to have them aware of what to do when the reaction happens but my thing is how about you just be educated on how to avoid it?” said Allore. “It’s got to be treated more seriously.”
The mother of three and stepmother of three children Allore understands it’s hard to not allow kids to eat peanut butter often a favourite for youngsters.
However the argument that peanut butter is all a child will eat doesn’t sit well with her.
“I love peanut butter” she said. “Kids are picky I understand that … my whole point of the letter is to try and get people to think about it from the child’s perspective.”
While ASES is a peanut/nut aware school that doesn’t always mean students don’t bring peanut products to the school as Allore has learned.
This past Halloween there were treats containing peanuts brought to the school and high school students eating peanut treats on the school bus.
The incidents which were dealt promptly by ASES showed Allore that perhaps more awareness was necessary.
“Maya’s always a little stressed around Halloween time because kids bring treats in and it’s a little less controlled when there’s treats floating around like that” said Allore.
The definition of peanut/nut aware means that like every school throughout the Trillium Lakelands District School Board ASES does not allow products containing peanuts or nuts in them as well as products that are imitations of peanut butter.
However the policy is very difficult to police said ASES principal Traci Hubbert.
“We can never guarantee being peanut free” said Hubbert. “We have signs posted for classrooms … so that you know that is a peanut/nut aware classroom.”
The principal says letters were sent to parents on the first day of school indicating if their child was in a classroom that was a peanut/nut aware class meaning a student in that class has a severe allergy.
Suggestions of peanut butter alternatives are also distributed supplied by the local health unit.
During the first day of school there is a presentation done on food rules including that students must eat food in their classrooms.
The principal said every once in a while a student comes to school with a peanut butter sandwich. They are then sent to the principal’s office where they are allowed to eat it (alone) but must immediately wash their hands after in a separate washroom.
“Because then we can contain to the best of our ability that situation” said Hubbert. “Part of the problem with peanuts is it has that oily residue it leaves behind … that’s why the peanut/nut [allergies] are a bit more trickier.”
Provincial legislation called Sabrina’s Law named in honour of a girl with a severe allergy who passed away as a result of a reaction states that schools must have an anaphylaxis policy in place.
The TLDSB policy on the matter states that each school must apply the board’s anaphylaxis policy and procedure as it relates to the needs of their school said Catherine Shedden manager of the TLDSB director’s office and communications.
“One school may have a student or staff member with a peanut allergy where the planning and communication may look different than in another school where there are not any or
there are different allergy concerns” Shedden wrote in an email to the paper. “It states in the TLDSB Anaphylaxis Procedure OP-6502 that each school has a duty to provide a safe environment for all students including individuals with life-threatening allergies. It is not possible to reduce the risk of allergy exposure to zero.”
Hubbert said the school has very detailed medical policies and procedures in place for each individual student whatever their situation might be. She says there are 13 students at the school who have allergies.
“We’ve got kids that are anaphylactic to different things” she said. “There are a lot of severe allergies in our school … we do our best to make people aware.”
A principal for 12 years Hubbert said she has never had a student have a reaction during her five years at ASES something she is very thankful for.
Aside from the letter Allore is also going to be visiting classrooms at ASES this coming Monday in her role as a nurse and parent speaking to children on the severity of peanut allergies.
Hubbert is happy to have Allore get involved at the school and hopes the educational visits will help bring more understanding to those who do not have allergies.
Aside from peanuts Maya has a number of other food allergies and as a result carries two EpiPens and is more responsible than your average eight-year-old.
Family trips to Kawartha Dairy are different for her as is trick or treating on Halloween.
With a best friend who is also allergic to peanuts Maya says she feels safe when she is with her friend.
Maya hopes the article about her will make people at her school think twice about peanuts.
To date she hasn’t had any incidents with peanuts since that first time when she was a toddler.
Allore hopes that her efforts make people pay more attention to the matter.
“My biggest fear is that something is going to happen that isn’t going to be changeable it’s not going to be fixable by submitting a letter the next day” she said. “I’d like to be able to not worry as much.”