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Sophomore Mia Potamianos gets up to go to school everyday with the knowledge that she may not return home safely. Potamianos has severe allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all seafoods. “If I’m around those foods, it becomes hard to breath, (and) my throat will start to close up. It’s traumatizing,” says Potamianos.
Potamianos is one of the increasing number of Jamesville-DeWitt students in recent years who have experienced life-threatening food allergies. To accommodate for these students, a few years ago, the J-D School Board changed their policies on food to limit exposure to allergens in the classroom, cafeteria, library, and other locations around the school.
Recently, the administration has “reiterated the importance of this food policy and reminded teachers it is their responsibility to monitor their classrooms,” says Principal Paul Gasparini.
Though Principal Gasparini says this is not in response to a higher number of cases of allergic reactions in school, school nurse Jill Hayward has noticed a higher number of students with severe allergies, with the most common cause being food. “It only takes a little bit of substance to spark someone’s reaction, so it’s really important that this issue be taken seriously, especially with the high amount of kids with allergies,” says Mrs. Hayward. An estimated 1 in 13 kids under the age of 18 now have food allergies, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Librarian Mary Panek has led the way in enforcing the food policy around the school, specifically in the library. “I am responsible for the safety of the many students that come to the library, and I feel that I would be doing a disservice to not protect those with allergies,” says Ms. Panek.
Because the library is six times the size of an average classroom, Ms. Panek has to be very cognizant of the dangers that food allergies can bring to some students. “There’s a thousand kids that come into the library on a monthly basis, and I don’t know what every single student’s allergies are. So, I’m very nervous about letting any type of eating go on the library, because allergies are a very serious issue. People die from it.”
Ms. Panek says that students are continuing to eat in the library despite her ban on food. “I just want kids to understand that I’m not trying to be an awful person, but it’s because I’m just trying to keep everybody safe and healthy,” says Ms. Panek. Ms. Panek hopes that eventually students will come to understand the dangers of eating allergen-containing foods, and will limit their consumption of such foods in the library.
Despite this, some students with the most severe allergies don’t support the restriction of the foods in school. Sophomore Abbie Leavitt, a student with an extreme nut allergy, doesn’t believe it’s necessary for other students’ diets to be limited due to her needs. “I know how to take care of myself and manage my allergies. If worst comes to worst, I have an EpiPen. I don’t need administrators catering to my allergies, and making eating a trouble for others,” she says.
Math teacher Dawn Janicki also sees the downside to such a strict policy. She has a personal connection to the board’s policy on food, considering her severe orange allergy and she feels that the policy is good for kids who have serious allergies. However, she wishes there was some way to celebrate special occasions without excluding kids with allergies. “I like to have a party every year where we celebrate the different cultures of students with food. Food is a very important part of our culture, so I think it’s important to keep that,” says Mrs. Janicki.
Sophomore Nick Lorenzo, a soccer player for J-D’s JV team, is often told to stop eating in class. Though he acknowledges those with allergies, he feels that those students should manage their allergies or sit somewhere else in the room. “I’m an athlete. I need to stay hydrated and full throughout the day,” says Lorenzo. In contrast, Leavitt says not many of her teachers enforce the policies too strictly to begin with.
This is a big problem with the food policy, according to Ms. Panek. “If we are going to have a school wide food policy, it needs to be enforced evenly throughout the school,” says Ms. Panek. However, each different department: English, Foreign Language, and Math, among others, has their own rules in regard to the policy on allergen containing foods. “Kids get confused by this. In one place, they see that they can eat, but then in another, they’re told to stop eating. It needs to be consistent,” says Panek.