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Should Parents Always Keep Snacks in Public Kids’ Spaces Peanut-Free?

A reader asks the Mom’s Council if he should always assume kids’ spaces are peanut-free and pack snacks accordingly.

This week, prodded by a chagrined parent, the Mom’s Council debates whether parents should assume kids' spaces are always peanut-free and pack snacks accordingly.

Let us know your opinion in the comments too. 

Question: I recently took my kids to an “indoor playground” (– thanks!). I was sitting with my kids, having a snack, when a mom came up to me. “You know, this is a peanut-free place, don't you?” … I was of course upset to have missed such a thing, but could find no signs anywhere, nor had there been anything on the website. The guy in charge assured me that they are, indeed, peanut-free. When I pointed out that there was no indication anywhere, I got a little lecture: “Well, whenever you take your kids to a place like this,” he said, “it is common knowledge that they're peanut-free." ...But this got me thinking. I have been a parent for five years, and I have never before come across the idea that “peanut-free” is the universal default. … Did I really somehow miss this unspoken rule? … It is easy for me to comply. I just want to know ahead of time. … Oh, the punchline. The establishment where I was told that peanut-free is so obvious that there is no need to put a sign up alerting parents? Right there on the wall, a sign, just to make sure everyone knew: “This is a smoke-free establishment.”---From Nuts in Somerville

Answer: From Kate van Sleet (read about Kate below) 

I would never have assumed that a playground (or any place geared to children) was peanut-free.  I, like you, would have carefully looked for any restrictions on the website and/or signage at the location before I went to or did anything at the facility. Plenty of locations post their food restrictions (including schools, daycare centers, and restaurants), so I don't see any reason why the playground couldn't advertise that they are peanut-free on their website and/or at the location--particularly for those of us not "in the know".  In fact, I would think it would behoove them from a legal standpoint to make that policy well known to their patrons.

Out of curiosity, I checked the websites for the places that we suggested in the Cabin Fever Q&A and only one of them advertises that they are a nut-free facility ( in Watertown).

 Answer: From Lucas Friedlaender (read about Lucas below)

There is no way anyone should assume any public space is peanut-free. My kids' preschool is not even peanut-free (and thank goodness since they get peanut butter sandwiches for lunch everyday).

My heart goes out to those with severe allergies, but they are still far and away the minority, and making accommodations is the name of the game, not changing the way everyone else operates.

Being prepared to make accommodations, and not having a negative attitude is all the general public should be expected to offer. As for what a manager/owner of a public space is expected to do is a case-by-case decision, HOWEVER, if they determine they want to be nut-free, then the responsibility to inform the majority that this is the case IS ON THEM, no assumptions should be made; by anyone.  Clear signage at the site, and especially on their website should warn people before arriving.  I would even suggest referencing the policy in their voice mail recording would be a minimal expectation.

Answer: From Kate,

I understand that parents-in-public would like to set good examples for each other and to feel like they are being good doobies. They (we) want to show all the respects and allowances due to others and be almost safety itself incarnate. To be challenged on these fronts must be very offensive indeed. And yet, when it comes to safety, we gotta take our lumps and move on if it is pointed out that we could have been more vigilant.

Really, Nuts In Somerville (but not nutty), your crime was one of omission rather than commission, as John Steinbeck says. You weren't intending to disseminate anaphylactic shock, you were having a snack. Yes, a sign would have been helpful and yes, gentle grace on the part of the perturbed parent would have eased the educative process, but ultimately, these allergies are decidedly deadly and, if you can, do keep the peanuts at home whenever you are going to join a crowd of tots, for the simple fact alone that it would make for a more peaceful time for everyone. It doesn't have to be a written, unwritten, spoken or unspoken rule--just a wise choice.

WHO THEY ARE

Kate van Sleet: I’m a paralegal for public television, but my primary job title is "Mom" to my 17-month-old daughter.  I chose to join the council because though I have lived in Somerville for nearly ten years, I am new to the world of parenting and would love to connect with other parents in the neighborhood.  My family loves Somerville and is always looking for ways to participate in the community.  I also serve on the Board of Trustees of the Somerville Public Library. 

Lucas Friedlaender: I’m  a father of three (a 5-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 15-month old) and I co-own Twinkle Star Baby Boutique in Porter Square with my wife Kerri Friedlaender, so I’m around kids and the children’s world all day everyday. My wife and I are pretty involved in parenting circles in Somerville. 

Kate “The Neighbor Lady” is mother to a 3- and a 5-year-old, a full-time employee of an illustrious area institution and confidant and neighbor to all who care to lean over the virtual fence to chat with her in her incarnation as the  advice columnist on Somerville Patch.

Who They Could Be

You. More members are being sought to join the . Moms, dads and guardians are welcome and wanted. To join, please contact deniset@patch.com. 

NoTyme4BS March 02, 2011 at 09:44 PM
My daughter goes to a school in Somerville and was informed by an announcement the principal made that they are NOT allowed to bring in any food that contains peanuts or peanut butter products. I find this is unfair for the children that like peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Is this mandatory for all Somerville schools or just this one?
Marla March 03, 2011 at 02:06 PM
While Somerville Public Schools don't serve peanuts in their cafeteria (Sun Butter & jelly sandwiches are available), I'm sure that there is no system-wide rule about what children bring - because my daughter's school allows peanuts and tree nuts in lunches from home. My guess is that your daughter's school has the rule because there is at least one child in that particular school who could have a fatal reaction to contact with peanuts.
Denise Taylor March 03, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I contacted the Somerville Schools to find out how they handle this and this is the answer provided by Gretchen Kinder, Somerville Public Schools research and development coordinator: While there isn't a peanut-free policy in the Somerville Public Schools, we do have a policy on the management of life threatening allergies in the school environment (policy JLCDD, online at www.somerville.k12.ma.us/policies). This policy says "...that specific building-based guidelines /activities will be established to ensure that the health needs of all students will be met in the least restrictive environment.” For those students with life-threatening peanut allergies, the presence of peanuts or peanut butter threatens their safety. As a result, in those schools where it is known a student has a life-threatening allergy, some classrooms or areas of the lunch-room may be made "peanut free zones" as one of several strategies necessary to ensure the health and safety of all students. Other families may not know who these students are; to disclose their allergies may be a violation of their privacy. At least four elementary schools report having some peanut-free zones to protect the life and health of students. I appreciate that this is a difficult issue, particularly for those families whose kids love peanut butter or peanut products, but the health and well being of any student who has a life threatening allergy is the most important concern that must be addressed.

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