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Marquette Monthly
November, 2006
 

Schools go nut-free to protect students
It was late summer and the long-anticipated day to attend our soon-to-be first grader’s school open house had arrived. It promised to be an exciting time to meet his new teacher and visit the classroom. We approached the school door and were greeted by a yellow sign that read “Cherry Creek School is a Peanut- and Nut-Free Building.”
I thought for a moment. What does that mean? Don’t bring any peanuts or nuts to school? But why? Could it be a custodial problem? I was aware of some places where popcorn had been banned because it was too hard to clean up and caused problems with the vacuum cleaners. Any further thoughts on the subject vanished as my attention went back to my child, who was navigating the busy hallway, anxious to find his room and the excitement it promised.
Years ago, two Marquette area families had no clue that such a yellow sign would one day have so much significance in their own lives. They could not have begun to imagine the additional anxiety they would one day feel when the time came to enroll their children in public school.
For one family, a taste of a seemingly simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich caused their toddler to have a severe allergic reaction. An immediate hive-like rash on her skin and a swelling of her lips and mouth had them on their way to the hospital emergency department. Their child was diagnosed quickly with a severe and potentially life-threatening allergy.
For the second family, their infant began to turn red and develop a skin rash from his throat to his stomach after eating some prepared food. Although the child was too young to be tested for allergies, the emergency department physician cautioned them to stay away from peanuts and products with nut proteins.
One year later, as the family was traveling home from downstate, the child ate a fingertip-size piece of chocolate fudge—which happened to contain nuts. Within a half hour, he was vomiting, crying, coughing, red from his neck to his waist and his throat was closing. The family made it to a hospital emergency department where the child was treated successfully. A skin test indicated he had a peanut and nut allergy. Full confirmation of the disability would be done through a blood test when a child was a few years older.
For each of these families, those life threatening instances began tumultuous times. They were frightened to death about what might accidentally find its way into their child’s mouth. Their response was to educate themselves. One family connected with a nationwide group called the Food Allergy & Anaphylactic Network (FAAN). They had to be diligent.
When the children were young and in their own home environment, their parents had the security of managing their foods and snacks. This same level of control and assurance extended to the child’s immediate social circle. When their children attended birthday parties, they would educate other parents about their child’s allergy and offer to send treats or special ones for their child. They taught their children to not accept foods from others.
However, when it came time to begin kindergarten the children would be entering a larger public community for the first time.
“I worry from the moment my daughter gets on the bus until the moment she gets off about whether something might set off her allergy that day,” on parent said.
That is when the parents took on one of their greatest roles: they became public advocates for their children. Through their advocacy, they sought a partnership with their school system. They took what they had learned to school and began a whole new chapter in “parent-school” communication.
Marquette Area Public Schools (MAPS) nurse Jeanette Wealton, R.N., said that the district has had students with peanut and nut allergies for the past eight to nine years. Other school districts in Marquette County have experienced students with the allergy as well. According to Wealton, the following are basic facts about the condition:
• Peanuts are one of the main causes of food allergies, and together with tree nut allergies, are the leading cause of fatal and near-fatal food anaphylaxis.
• Anaphylaxis is a body’s reaction, in this case to nut proteins, that can lead to cardiovascular collapse and death. It requires immediate treatment with epinephrine. Epinephrine is a hormone that stimulates the heart and increases muscle strength and endurance.
• Symptoms of allergic reactions are itching, hives, swelling of the face, tongue and throat; abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, difficulty breathing, wheezing, dizziness, loss of consciousness and shock.
• Because there is not yet a cure for this allergy, strict avoidance is key to management.
• The incidence of peanut and tree nut allergy in children has doubled in the last five years.
• Most people do not outgrow peanut allergy (eighty percent), unlike most other food allergies. Of those who do outgrow peanut allergy, nine percent can relapse and become allergic again.
The MAPS response initially was driven by the federal law that states “every child is entitled to a free and public education.” It is further stated by law that “assurances are given so that all children are afforded a safe academic environment,” which is supported by the MAPS Board policy.
The Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 includes what is commonly known as Section 504.
Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 ensures that the child with a disability has equal access to an education. The child may receive accommodations and modifications.
Peanut and nut allergies are classified as a disability, and therefore Section 504 plans are developed based on that individual child’s needs. The parent, together with the school nurse and administration, collaborate on the 504 plan.
In the case of Cherry Creek School, this school year the decision was made to establish the building as “peanut- and nut-free.” The school nurse provided education and training to the teachers and staff, including how to administer an “Epi-pen,” which delivers epinephrine.
Principal Sam Oslund has extended the educational effort through letters to parents. The following are excerpts:
“There is a child in our school with a severe peanut and nut allergy. For some children, the allergy causes swelling, hives, etc. and in other children it is life threatening. Some children react to ingesting the allergen, while others will react by touching the allergen or inhaling it…so, for the safety of the child, please send a nutritious snack each day with your child that does not contain peanut and nut products or has a warning on the label that it has been packaged at a plant that also packages peanut and nut products.
“Chocolate and chocolate products will not be allowed in the building. Also, for birthdays or other class parties, when sending treats, please send peanut and nut free ones that are not homemade. Prepackaged treats and snacks are acceptable as long as they are peanut and nut free…If your child eats peanuts, nuts or peanut butter at home, please have them wash his/her hands and face before coming to school.”
The school also has provided parents with letters identifying a listing of safe snack choices by brand-name products. Parents are asked to read the labels of products they are intending to purchase for school. Effective January 1, 2006, Congress passed a law requiring all food manufacturers to list major allergens on labels. “Peanut” will either be listed in the ingredient list or it will read “manufactured/processed on equipment that processes peanuts/tree nuts.”
The food service department of MAPS has assured Cherry Creek School that food will be prepared in a kitchen that is peanut- and nut-free with equally safe ingredients. The ingredients on all prepackaged snacks are checked and any found to be manufactured in a facility where nut products are produced are eliminated. An individual has donated hand sanitizers for children and staff use for every classroom and bathroom in Cherry Creek and other MAPS buildings as well.
Now, when I pull the handle on that door at Cherry Creek School, I see that yellow sign, “Cherry Creek School is a Peanut- and Nut-free Building,” I think something far different than that late August evening. I count my blessings, and included on that list are Jeanette Wealton, Sam Oslund and Julie Lundin. One an incredible school nurse who serves more than 3,400 students in the MAPS District; one is a can-do, compassionate principal who understands the importance of the home and school connection for student success and who still has the same love of children and education that he had when I first met him twenty-five years ago; and one resilient kindergarten teacher whose bright smile and sparkling eyes greet her students each morning, their first introduction to what school is all about.
These three people were described by a parent whose child has a peanut and nut allergy as, “my daughter’s guardian angels.” I think she feels blessed, too.
I doubt most people think of a food allergy as a disability. If we would all stop to think about the challenges those families face each day to live the life they do, we might think again. We might even broaden our tolerance of people with all types of disabilities such as autism and developmental or physical limitations.
The parents of children with peanut and nut allergies want their children to be able to be independent members of a greater community. They ask other parents to make the necessary accommodations during the school day and understand that it is not their choice to take away privileges from other children. They are thankful to the majority who have been understanding and supportive.
Perhaps the supportive actions of parents will set a good example for all children. It will be a teachable moment that illustrates we are a community that has tolerance for those with disabilities and is compassionate about their challenges.
Now whenever I think about the phrase, “It takes a community to raise a child,” I will be reminded about the role of public education in the raising of that child. I will understand more completely how it takes a community to assure that every child has access to a safe academic environment.
—Leslie Bek

Editor’s Note: For more information about peanut and nut allergies in the MAPS district, call Wealton at 225-5354.

 

 

Responsible drinking: the definition and the reality
Everyone has seen those billboard ads along the highway for an alcoholic beverage or watched a television commercial promoting it. At the bottom of these ads, we see the words “drink responsibly.” We hear those words again and again, and most of us assume we know what they mean. But do we really?
The Greeks knew what responsible drinking was 2,500 years ago. One quote from an ancient Greek play said:
“For sensible men, I prepare only three kraters (drinks): one for health, which they drink first, the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep. After the third one is drained, wise men go home. The fourth is not mine anymore—it belongs to bad behavior; the fifth is for shouting; the sixth is for rudeness and insults; the seventh is for fights; the eighth is for breaking the furniture; the ninth is for depression; the tenth is for madness and unconsciousness.”
Is this how the majority of Americans perceive responsible drinking today? It is unlikely there are only three drinks being served to each person in bars on Friday or Saturday nights. And after those drinks are served, some of the patrons decide they want to go home, and since they do not have designated a driver, they get behind the wheel themselves and drive home. Once home, the same problems the Greeks had with six or more drinks, the fights, domestic violence and public disturbances occur all too often.
The Greeks didn’t have to worry about deaths related to drinking and driving, but unfortunately we live in the twenty-first century where deaths from drinking and driving happen frequently.
In Marquette County, there were forty-three motor vehicle fatalities from 2001 to 2005. Twenty of those deaths were alcohol-related. This means that alcohol was involved in forty-seven percent of all the motor vehicle deaths in Marquette County, which is higher than the State average.
Statistics like this sometimes seem cold and impersonal. We see numbers, not faces. We are not affected by what we are not connected to in some way. If someone told you, though, that one of those twenty people who lost their lives was a relative or friend, everything changes.
I know everything changes because I experienced it. In junior high school, my friends and I were oblivious to the world of drinking and driving. We would hear in classes that it was wrong to drink before you turned twenty-one and wrong to drink and drive.
We did not really learn this important lesson until one spring day we found out a classmate had been seriously hurt because she and two friends got in a car with a driver who had been drinking.
The driver was only in high school at the time and did not know how much drinking could affect his ability to drive. He was going way too fast in a car that was not equipped with proper seatbelts.
He drove off the road and my friend was thrown from the vehicle. She died a few days later in the hospital. The driver did not sustain any serious physical injuries, but he has to live with the fact that his drinking and driving caused the death of an innocent girl for the rest of his life, which I think is worse than any injury he may have sustained that night.
As a college student, I have seen individuals consume eight or nine drinks in a span of a few hours. This is not how all college students choose to approach drinking, but unfortunately, there are many who feel it is perfectly safe.
Some of those individuals then think it is safe to get behind the wheel and drive themselves and others home. Today, more than thirty-seven percent of teens, when asked, indicate that they themselves or have been in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
Of course college students are known for their binge drinking. But adults should know better than to drink more alcoholic beverages than they can handle and when they have they should not drive.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Marquette County has the State of Michigan’s highest adult binging rate, with twenty-nine percent. The alcohol impairment chart on this page shows how many drinks it takes to become impaired and reach the legal limit of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in Michigan, .08, according to body weight and gender.
A 160-pound man is legally drunk at four drinks. His driving skills are significantly affected after only two drinks. For a 120-pound woman, two drinks will put her at the legal limit, and only one drink will affect her driving skills significantly. Every individual is different and will be affected differently, but this can go in both directions. One person may not be as impaired as the chart indicates, but could be more affected.
One drink is equal to 1.25 ounces of eighty-proof liquor, twelve ounces of regular beer, or five ounces of table wine. This means that a regular bottle or can of beer is one drink.
At some locations and events though, the beer is not served in bottles, it is served in cups. These cups often are larger than the twelve ounces that approximates one drink.
One township in Marquette County is doing something to help adults stay safe when they attend community and athletic events. The Powell Township Board has adopted the Marquette County Board of Health recommendation aimed at defining moderate alcohol consumption for attendees at community events and athletic events.
The policy is known as “0-0-1-3.” The numbers represent no alcohol for people younger than twenty-one, no driving under the influence of alcohol, one alcoholic beverage per hour, and no more than three alcoholic beverages at one event. Powell Township is the first municipality in the country to recommend the policy, which has been successfully tested on U.S. military bases.
“When you consider that alcohol abuse is America’s number one youth drug problem, communities should support programs that assist in preventing problems” said Powell Township Clerk Diane Burns.
“What this means for municipalities is that if alcohol is served at a public community event, that the event sponsors are recommended to follow the program,” said Jim Harrington of the Marquette County Health Department. “If they follow these recommendations, it is more likely that people when they leave the event are not legally intoxicated. To help monitor this, we are providing public events in the township with special wristbands that have three tabs attached.
When someone enters the alcohol service area at one of these events, they will show their identification and get the wristband, Harrington said. Each time they purchase an alcoholic beverage, one tab will be taken, in an effort to reduce the abuse of alcohol.
“Lots of people talk about moderate drinking, but no one seems to agree on what moderate drinking really is,” Harrington said. “This defines moderate drinking as one alcoholic beverage per hour and no more than three per event.”
The Marquette County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the administration of these licenses for areas in the county that do not have their own law enforcement agency.
According to Sue Girard-Jackson, community safety coordinator, these temporary or “special” alcohol licenses have many of the same rules that apply to liquor licensees: they must not sell to minors, the area where alcohol is sold must be marked clearly and separated from the event by a rope or fence, and they must not sell alcohol to intoxicated people.
Girard-Jackson said the 0-0-1-3 program can go a long way in helping community events avoid problems such as having people leave the events intoxicated.
Paul Olson from the Great Lakes Center for Youth Development believes that this policy has an important youth development aspect.
“Children watch adult behavior very closely,” Olson said. “They’re looking for clues as to what is appropriate and what isn’t. So, apart from safety concerns, many parents avoid community events where alcohol is served because they don’t feel comfortable exposing their children to adults who are intoxicated in public.
“From this angle, we hope to see that 0-0-1-3 raises attendance at community events by reassuring parents that other adult attendees will behave responsibly.”
This policy is not out to abolish drinking. It was developed to reduce binge drinking and help those who choose to go out and have a few drinks stay safe. It will remind those who drink that they need to slow down. It will help prevent intoxication, and make it safer for everyone involved.
If this policy can help save just one life, it is worth every minute spent implementing it. Who knows, the life it saves may be somebody you know and care about…or your own.
For details, visit www.upprevent.org
—Shelby Nordheim

 


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