The Voorhees Board of Education might be considering possible changes to the district’s policy of caring for students who are allergic to peanuts.
Several parents raised the issue at the Sept. 28 BOE meeting, questioning why the district did not have a complete ban on peanut products within its buildings.
Common allergic reactions to peanuts can include minor symptoms such as itchiness and swelling, to more life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest and anaphylactic shock.
As it stands now, parents of students with peanut allergies can notify their child’s school and have their child sit at a special “peanut free” table while they eat lunch.
In cases of students with more extreme allergies, Epinephrine auto-injectors can also be provided to the child’s school to be kept in the nurse’s office.
However, several parents at the Sept. 28 meeting said the district’s policy did not go far enough to protect children with peanut allergies.
Doug Madanick, whose kindergarten-aged child has a tactile peanut allergy, said he was surprised to learn the district was not peanut-free, which was different than his child’s pre-school and most of the pre-schools where his friends’ children attend.
“I don’t understand why the school district as a policy would not go peanut-free. There are other alternatives to peanuts these days,” Madanick said.
Madanick also raised concerns about his son sitting at a specific table during lunch as a way to avoid peanuts.
“This is my 5-year-old son who is struggling to adjust to meeting new kids and being in a new environment, and now we have to tell him ‘you have to go sit at that table,’” Madanick said.
Board President Richard Nelson said the district has been working to accommodate children with peanut allergies for many years, and Superintendent Raymond Brosel Jr. said he doesn’t want the district to think it could completely guarantee someone wouldn’t ever bring in peanut products.
“We’re very concerned and we’re doing the best job that we can,” Brosel said.
Jason Ravitz, who also serves as deputy mayor of Voorhees Township, spoke at the meeting and raised safety concerns about his fifth-grade child who has a peanut allergy.
Ravitz said his children have also attended pre-schools and camps that were nut free, and he too disagreed with children with peanut allergies sitting at special tables.
“I’m at a breaking point, because a fifth-grade child or a kindergarten child or first-grade child should not be coming home from school feeling shunned,” Ravitz said. “A child in elementary school should not be made fun of because of their allergies.”
Julie Ketover said she also has a child with a severe allergy to peanuts, and at Signal Hill Elementary School, she recently received a letter saying she could opt her child out of the peanut-free table if she so chose.
Ketover said she “would never dream” of opting her child out due to the danger of the environment, but since her child is sociable, other children sometimes will choose to sit with her child instead.
“I don’t understand also why, given the risk, we don’t have a nut-free environment for our children … the procedure is not working,” Ketover said. “Whatever is in place is not working. The policy is not working.”
Board solicitor Howard Mendelson said the district follows guidelines from the state Department of Education, and he believed the district and parents should work together to address any concerns.
Toward the end of the discussion, several board members said they wanted the board to discuss the peanut allergy issue among themselves before the next meeting so they can begin to respond to parents’ concerns.
The next meeting of the Voorhees BOE is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24, at Voorhees Middle School.