Saturday, March 15, 2014



I was visiting Yahoo the other day to check my email when I saw this headline on their homepage,  “2 YEAR OLD SUSPENDED FROM DAYCARE OVER CHEESE SANDWICH” that caught my eye and I clicked on it.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m the parent of a little girl with a severe food allergy and it didn’t even cross my mind this might be a story on that topic.  The story by Monica Bielanko really highlights one of the most stressful parts of being the parent of a child with food allergies, dealing with the parents of other children your kids go to day care, school, church or other activities with that don’t have to deal with this health issue themselves, and I was impressed by how she took a story that could have been sensationalized (like CBC and The Huffington Post did) and instead approached it with compassion and thoughtfulness. 

The story involves Randy Murray whose 2 year old daughter took a grilled cheese sandwich to her day care with her.  When the care givers at the day care in Ottawa Canada discovered the food they suspended the girl for 3 days.  The day care has a strict policy about no “outside” food being brought into the facility because several children who attend it have severe food allergies.  According to the day care in the CBCinterview (video above), the policy meant to protect the children with food allergies, prohibits anyone from bringing food into the facility with expulsion for any offense involving peanuts or tree nuts and 3 day suspension for any other type of food.  The day care provides snacks and meals to the kids who attend it that have been pre-screened and are prepared in a food allergy safe environment.

Randy Murray claims it was an accident and his little girl stuck her lunch in her pocket at home when he wasn’t looking making and claims that his family being punished for an accident is ridiculous. Mr. Murray has lashed out at the preschool for enforcing a strict policy and is trying to punish them for his punishment by badmouthing the facility in the press.  Murray told the Ottawa Sun in an interview ““They freaked out. If I got a warning, I’d admit my mistake and move on.  But it seems they want to penalize the parents. There’s no logic to it. I’m going to the media because I think people have to speak up when something’s fishy.”

There is one thing that is correct in Mr. Murray’s statement “they want to penalize the parents” and that is absolutely correct because a 2 year old does not know better but a parent is the one who is ultimately responsible.  By stating the day care “freaked out” Mr. Murray absolutely doesn’t get the seriousness of food allergies.  My daughter almost died and was in the hospital for 3 days after the first time she ate peanut butter when she was just 18 months old (close to the age of Mr. Murray's daughter), we had no clue she would be allergic to it, and at 5 years old she is still grasping how the whole allergy thing works and what she can and can’t do.  Young children need extra guidance because they don’t know eating a cookie given to them by a friend could KILL them and to switch it around the child who shares his or her candy with their class mate at school who has a food allergy doesn’t know that might KILL their friend.  So it is up to parents, teachers, administrators and other community leaders to establish policies like the one this day care has to protect everyone.

Think about this – In 2012, 7 year old Ammaria Johnson died on the playground at her elementary school  in Virginia when a friend of hers shared a snack with a peanut in it.  Last year a 13 year old with a peanut allergy dies at a popular summer camp in Sacramento after taking a bite of a Rice Krispies treat containing peanuts that a friend handed to her.  Natalie Giorgi died in her father’s arms as he tried to provide her with multiple does of medicine.  The first day of kindergarten should be an exciting time for a family, but unfortunately that was ruined last year for the King family when their daughter Amelie, who is severely allergic to peanuts, had to come home early due to a reaction from coming into contact with food another child brought to school with them at lunch time.  If there was any good news from Amelie King’s situation it was that while her face looked like someone used it as a punching bag, things could have been worse.  She could have had her throat swell shut, gone into cardiac arrest or had her organ shut down from anaphylaxis shock.  If you look at her picture, which I’ve posted, I don’t think many would consider her “lucky” to have a “mild” reaction.

So as the Huffington Post and CBC gave some sensationalized coverage to the feigned outrage of a parent whose 2 year old was suspended, I have to give credit to Yahoo who published a more thoughtful expose on the underlying issue of food allergies.  Kudos to Monica Bielanko for writing:

I'll admit, I didn't really understand the gravity of food allergies and how intense having a child who is allergic to things can be for parents until I met a really great couple with a daughter who is allergic to a lot of foods, including peanuts. Seeing what her parents go through to keep her safe and imagining the stress they must feel when they can't be there to watch what she eats must be overwhelming. Think about it: every day they have to send their daughter off into the world knowing that simply coming into contact with a commonplace food item could seriously hurt her. I would be a wreck.

And that there is the rub.  For parents of children with food allergies that go to schools that don’t ban outside food coming into the facility every day is a stressful occasion.  My daughter’s school doesn’t have a policy in place like the day care Mr. Murray’s has in place and I wish it did.  We are constantly dealing with “food issues” around birthdays, special events and school functions that put our child at potential risk, differentiate her as different from other kids, and put my wife and I at edge.  It is not often easy to just find someplace to go either as our community as a whole is just starting to adapt to this growing food allergy epidemic with our population.

So I ask where does inconveniencing some families become more problematic than protecting the health of others?  There lies the debate which is the greater issue presented in the Grilled Cheese Sandwich suspension.  Parents of children with food allergy don’t want to burden others, I often feel really bad when I have to complain about something regarding another parent exposing our child to risk, but we also need to fulfill our ultimate responsibility of protecting our child.  So instead of pitting parents against one another, a day care, school, or community facility taking a position on the issue seems the best approach.  A warning would be a nice approach to take, but it takes only one time breaking the rule to seriously hurt or kill a child.  By having a strict approach as this day care has established in their policy it makes sure the parents understand this is a serious issue and it does punish the parents because it is their responsibility to make sure the rules are followed, especially when dealing with young children.  Policies also need to be uniform so that everyone receives equal treatment and no one feels someone else may have received special favorable treatment or been discriminated against.

One comment by Mr. Murray in his Ottawa Star interview really specifically stirred me up when he said, “I think people need to speak up when something’s fishy.”  You know Mr. Murray what seems fishy to me?  The fact that you claim your daughter snuck the sandwich in her pocket while eating lunch at home taking it to school without your knowledge in the Huffington Post story, yet in your CBC interview you mention that school administrators found the sandwich sealed in a Ziplock bag.  Hmmm, doesn’t seem to me in my experiences that most 2 year olds eating a sandwich for lunch at home would also seal it in a Ziploc bag.  Something does seem a little fishy with this story.

I hope that if you don’t have a family member who suffers from food allergies that you will take this Grilled Cheese Sandwich Dilemma as a chance to educate yourself on this topic and an opportunity to remember to show some compassion and consideration for those dealing with the weighty burden placed upon individuals with food allergies and the people who care for them.

I want to thank the staff at Centre de l'Enfant Aux 4 Vents for taking the subject of food allergies seriously and not being bullied by Mr. Murray.  I wish more people in my own community would be as vigilant as those at this day care.

For more information on Food Allergies visit www.fare.orgAlso the United States Center For Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has an excellent resources page regarding the topic and safeguards at daycares and schools:

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