What happened in this school district is a great example of why I'm SO glad Ryan is not in a school environment. The school board, in an effort to protect some kids with peanut or other allergies, unilaterally declared an elementary school nut-free. Parents went nuts (ha!).
This is an issue I've been thinking about for a long time. It's been over 3 years since the BPI*. And I finally have to say everything I've been considering, because I've never seen anyone talk about this nut-free school situation in the proper way. Ever. So here goes:
- Yes, Virginia, you have a constitutional right to eat whatever you like and to feed your children the same.
- Had this school board (and ever so many others) handled this more diplomatically, less parents would be angry and defensive. Here's what you do: You educate people about the severity of food allergies, emphasize the risk of actual death, and ask for input on how best to handle this situation. Then when the input comes, you listen and then make the decision, explaining the pros and cons of the plans considered and why you chose the solution you did. It's called treating grownups like grownups. But wait...I'd forgotten for a moment that we're talking about government bureaucrats. Our Nanny State at work!
- Parents who declare that they are going to send their kids to school with peanut butter no-matter-who-says-what are just plain mean. It's interesting to me that THIS is the issue that matters to you so much that you are willing to put up a big stinky show of belligerence and name calling. That you are willing to break the rules, and in some cases, encourage your children to do the same, in the name of a legume, which, as my friend once so elegantly put it, you will just poop out tomorrow anyway. THIS is your Big Battle in Life. Not, you know, taxes, or coercive government, or your asshole boss, or eminent domain, or the inability of your government to protect you from terrorists who want to kill every American. This. Peanut Butter. Think about how sad that really is.
- Parents who insist on putting their children in life-threatening situations on a daily basis are just plain stupid. NOTE: If you have rationally evaluated the situation at your kid's school and are comfortable with the rules, knowledge of the staff, and level of vigilance--this does not mean YOU. I don't want hate mail from you. I'm referring to--and you know exactly who I mean here--those parents who continue to send their children to schools who are not accommodating their child's allergies, to teachers who refuse to notify you when there are snacks in the classroom, principals who don't return your phone calls, to places where you are ridiculed for being "overprotective" or a "nuisance," etc. Parents who don't feel 100% comfortable with the school's arrangements but send their child anyway because he has a "right" to an education--you are putting your child's life in danger and that is stupid.
- All people on all sides of this issue (and in the whole country actually) need to learn the definition of the word rights.
None of this would matter if the government did not own and provide the means of education for the vast majority of American children. None of this would matter if people didn't believe that education is a God-given Right (which is in itself a problem with our educational system).
When you make education a right, when the government runs the education apparatus, issues like this become unsolvable. People do have an actual right to eat whatever they want. Parents have a moral obligation to protect their children (who have a right to their own life) from things that might kill them. In some cases, peanuts = death. What to do? In the best case scenario, somebody's going to be angry. In the worst, somebody's going to be dead. (I think the death card should trump the legume card and possibly the government would agree with me. But since a peanut ban is actually unenforceable short of a peanut inspection at the beginning of each school day, it's immaterial. There is still a real risk to the allergic child.)
When the task of educating children is in the hands of those properly responsible--the parents--many of these issues go away. Don't like the way your chosen school is handling your kid's food allergies or diabetes? Then switch schools. That's all there is to it. Don't like the fact that your kid's school has gone nut-free? Then switch. Don't like the fact that your kid's school has a crappy policy about, say, girls playing sports? Switch. Don't like the fact that the school begins too early in the morning? Switch. The school day is too short or too long or they won't let you take your kids on vacation or the teachers are mean? Switch, switch, switch, switch.
If this actually ever happened (that is, no more Department of Education), it would mean more work for all parents, even those who choose to continue to send their kids to school. So what? Your kids are your responsibility, even when the government pretends otherwise.
Remove the government interference and remove the problems.
9/14: Edited to clarify a sentence about parents' moral obligations to their children.
*BPI: In a nutshell (ha!), Ryan ate PB for the first time, his body exploded into hives and he struggled to breathe, I got to call 911, the nice fireman peopleguys came to our house, we spent the night in the hospital, it was Brendan's birthday.