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Parents of children with food allergies seek stricter protocol from schools

  • Haley Fenyves, 8, right, and her sister Riley, 5, eat a peanut-free snack after school while their mom, Michelle Fenyves, gets them drinks at their home on Monday, September 23, 2013 in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

For years, Michelle Fenyves has started each school year with a conversation with teachers, office staff and cafeteria workers to make sure they understand that her daughter suffers a severe peanut allergy.

Eight-year-old Haley now carries her own EpiPen to school so that she can inject herself with a medication should she have an allergic reaction.

"She is at the top of the charts with severity," Fenyves said.

Fenyves credited educators at Sonoma Mountain Charter School in Petaluma's Old Adobe School District for treating her daughter with compassion. Haley Fenyves's third grade classroom is "peanut free" and there is a "allergen free" table in the cafeteria where foods known to cause a student's reaction are prohibited.

But as the number of children who suffer from food allergies continues to rise, Michelle Fenyves and others say Old Adobe and other schools and districts should have standard protocols for how to deal with students who are allergic to not only peanuts, but also wheat, dairy, shellfish and other foods.

"We are not saying never eat peanut butter in your life. We are asking for five or six hours of your life," she said.

Some contend that the medical condition of a few should not dictate how entire classrooms or even campuses are run. School officials say they hear that argument, but that the safety of students outweighs convenience and the food preferences of the majority.

The growing prevalence of food allergies is challenging school administrators and families nationwide.

About 8 percent of children in the U.S. suffer from a food allergy. Such allergies increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 in kids under 18. Experts have yet to pinpoint the cause for the increase.

The affliction costs the U.S. nearly $25 billion a year according to a recent study led by a pediatrician and professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

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