Students with severe food allergies merit attention, but the state should not mandate that teachers be responsible - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Students with severe food allergies merit attention, but the state should not mandate that teachers be responsible

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Posted: Friday, February 2, 2007 5:42 am | Updated: 6:16 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s nearly impossible to refuse support for some new law or statewide policy when a parent looks you in the eye and says the life of a child is at stake.

Primal urges to protect the weak and the young surge to the fore when the topic turns on the safety of our kids. But logic and restraint should still have its place in a free society that emphasizes personal responsibility over government mandates while struggling to make the best use of precious tax dollars.

That’s why Arizona lawmakers need to be skeptical about proposed statewide guidelines for all public schools to protect children with severe allergies to some foods, such as peanuts, milk or eggs.

As Tribune writer Andrea Faulkenhagen reported Tuesday, the underlying concern is serious because some allergies can cause death within a few minutes and health officials say the number of children afflicted by severe allergies has grown rapidly. The issue has gained enough attention that nearly every school has policies to help affected students avoid foods that trigger their allergies, and to get them emergency care if a reaction does occur.

But these policies can vary widely depending on the number of affected children in that particular school and how much money is available for extra staff and training. Some schools try to create an allergy-free bubble around a sensitive student by establishing places where they shouldn’t risk coming in contact with the wrong food; other schools have virtually banned the most troublesome foods from the entire campus.

Since 2005, state law has required schools to allow diagnosed students to bring to class auto-injectors with ephinephrine that can be used as a quick shot to reverse an allergic reaction. But many schools don’t require teachers to learn how to use the injectors in case the student is unable to, because many teachers themselves say they’ve already taken on too many responsibilities beyond their job as educators.

Faulkenhagen reported parents in the Phoenix Allergy Network worry differences in school policies, and a reluctance to prepare for the potential use of ephinephrine injectors, are putting the lives of kids in danger. So the network persuaded Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler, to sponsor HB2201, which would require the state Department of Education to establish a common set of guidelines to protect students with food allergies and to create a training program for schools that would include administering ephinephrine in an emergency.

Nichols’ bill tries to limit the additional burden for teachers by only requiring a principal and one other school employee (presumably a nurse) to know how to use ephinephrine. But if HB2201 becomes law, legal and societal pressures inevitably will mount until all teachers are compelled to get the training as well and assume the liability involved with lifeor-death reactions.

The truth is any school that shows little interest in protecting allergic children from harmful foods should be a red flag for parents that this school probably doesn’t have their kids’ best interests at heart. Parents have choices in Arizona, and responsible parents will exercise those choices by seeking out another place that cares adequately about its students.

However, HB2201 is one more way for the state to reduce society’s expectation for parents to fulfill their central duty of seeing to the health and well-being of their children. Ultimately, HB2201 would further shift that burden to overwhelmed teachers and school administrators who already are forced to be amateur police officers, welfare case workers and bag inspectors. Less parental involvement means more poorly adjusted children who don’t fare well in school — and became burdens as adults for the rest of us to care for through poverty assistance, drug treatment programs and jail cells.

We all have an outpouring of sympathy for kids and parents who struggle with allergies to common foods that most of us take for granted in our diets every day. But lawmakers shouldn’t allow that sympathy to blind them to a greater tragedy of the gradual erosion in parentchild relationships that teachers and state programs can never adequately repair or replace.

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