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Siren School social media circus, over peanuts

School Board pronounces school nut free on short notice, community pushes back.
Siren School Staff, 10 smiling people standing
New staff members for the 2023-2024 school year at Siren Public School.

By Becky Strabel Sept. 8th, 2023

After the School District of Siren posted on Facebook that the district would be a nut-free zone, comments for and against filled their feed. The post came just days before the district would welcome back students and after some teachers had already bought classroom snacks. Public comments at the Siren Board of Education meeting on Monday, Aug. 28, were similar to those online.

Sarah Brewster questioned the board’s decision to ban the entire district of products with peanuts and tree nuts, including products made in a factory containing those items. 

“I don’t think there’s enough research and thought put into the decision,” commented Brewster. “How is this going to be policed? What about other products that contain peanut or nut oils, such as lotions? The CDC doesn’t even recommend a ban, but they do have lots of information with guidelines for managing food allergies in schools. Why couldn’t we educate children, teachers, and staff about allergens, the importance of prevention, and how to respond in the case of a reaction?”

“I wouldn’t expect a ban if it were my child. It’s not real life. My job is to prepare them for adulthood. Their place of work or college will not ban their allergens, so can’t we prepare our students for real life?” asked Brewster.

LuAnn Swanson also questioned the new policy. “The last few years have been focused on hand washing, desk cleaning, and everything else. Why deviate from that? If we can keep a safer and cleaner environment and use what the kids know, why take away from so many? You are erasing the names of an awful lot of children that are not affected.”

Swanson continued, “I had no idea that this was a policy. I went through and reread all of the minutes from the past year, and I saw no concerns or any of this being brought up, and now, all of a sudden, boom, this is a nut-free facility. I don’t know what type of environment can be anything free.”

Swanson wasn’t the only one caught off guard by the Facebook post. All board members other than President Peggy Moore seemed to be as well. 

According to Superintendent Dr. Kevin Shetler, the decision was made after conferring with school nurse Adriana Addison, FPN.

“We currently know of four students and one staff member who have allergies to nuts. We received a recommendation from the medical provider based on the student’s life-threatening allergy. The individual also has a 504 plan.”

Moore expanded, “This student has a very severe airborne allergy to any form of tree nuts and peanuts. A 504 is under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law, and we are required by law to follow the recommendations, which are going to be that we have a nut-free facility to the best of our ability.”

“If we had separate buildings, maybe we could do something different, but we don’t. Our students share the cafeteria and gyms, use the same entrances, and ride the same buses,” said Addison. “Many districts in metropolitan locations already have policies in place. We are 20-30 years behind in a rural area.”

School board members questioned how to police the situation with variables such as visiting sports teams, verifying other nut butters, and contracts with third-party providers like the bus company, Bernick’s, etc. 

“I’m sorry, but our job is to protect kids, and that’s what we’re doing. I know people are having problems with this,” reiterated Shetler. “Just like if you’re on a plane and they say you need to put your $20 M&M’s away because you can’t have them on the plane. You do it because you care about the lives of other people. It’s more than having a snack.”

Board members were not negating the importance of protecting students but would have appreciated a heads-up on the situation. 

“I’m just surprised we, as the board, weren’t notified of it prior. This is a big thing that was decided. A heads up: an email to the board could have been sent. Communication,” Board member Jamie Thompson commented.

More information will be available based on the medical facts regarding what is and isn’t allowed any extra precautions that may or may not be beneficial. A giant net was cast for now and may be narrowed as additional information comes in.

Even with the ban, the district is still responsible for adequately planning for children with any life-threatening food allergies, educating all school personnel accordingly, and ensuring that school staff are trained and prepared to prevent and respond to a food allergy emergency.

From Burnett County Sentinel, September 8, 2023