CORNWALL, Ontario – Parents on both sides of a heated debate concerning the consumption of peanut-free products at area schools are digging in their heels.
This week the Upper Canada District School Board sent a missive to parents, directing them to avoid packing lunches and snacks that may contain products that are meant to mimic the taste of things like peanut butter – but are in fact soy-based.
Kerry Van Allen, parent of a son and daughter at Rothwell-Osnabruck School, received the message, but she’s got another one for the school board – she’s sending the lunches anyway.
“I know of kids that have been taking this stuff to school for the last year, and there’s never been a problem,” said Van Allen, whose son was targeted by school officials this week when he brought a WOWButter and jam sandwich to school.
Van Allen concedes the board policy on peanut-products is fairly clear and she is abiding by it.
“I would never knowingly send a peanut product to school,” she said.
The problem is board policy does not cover soy-based products – which taste like peanut butter but are nut-free. Some manufacturers also include stickers parents can affix to lunch bags which detail the fact that their product is nut-free.
The issue exploded online, including the school board’s Facebook page where parents from both camps ripped into each other – so much so that board officials had to post a warning to remain civil.
“We appreciate that making lunches for our children can be difficult,” the board said on Facebook. “We ask you to respect our character values in your postings. We respect your opinions. Please be respectful in the expression of those opinions.”
But many parents, including those in support of banning the product at school, maintained their position.
“My child is one of many affected by life threatening food allergies. Creating a safe environment for her to learn in is no different than providing a child in a wheelchair with a ramp,” parent Stacey Phillips posted on the board’s Facebook page. “Have empathy and know it is not a lifestyle choice.”
Some have suggested the smell alone that some peanut-free products produce can be enough to illicit an allergic response in some.
But WOWButter takes issue with that on its website: “It will not affect anyone with strictly a peanut and/or nut allergy who smells, ingests or contacts this product.”
Van Allen’s son had to eat his lunch, alone, in the office, but that won’t stop her from packing the same lunch in the future.
“I’m going to continue to send it,” said Van Allen, adding she did just that this week and her son was allowed to eat in the classroom with his friends.
But that led to a phone call to Van Allen from his teacher – and within hours of that the board got involved and began circulating its nut policies by way of letters home, and social media.
“They can’t tell me what I can and can’t send because I am abiding by the rules,” said Van Allen.
If the board continues to place her son in the office when he brings a WOWButter sandwich to school, Van Allen said she will be upset.
“That opens up a whole other can of worms for me,” she said.
School board officials weren’t immediately available for comment.