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Updated Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 3 PM EST

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RCS board to let feds
decide on peanut ban policy

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Normally the choice for peanut butter sandwiches is either "smooth" or "crunchy," but for Hevel Elementary there is no option at all.
       While administrators say keeping nut-based products out of the school is the only way to maintain the safety of a student with severe peanut allergies, some parents argue this lack of choice is too extreme to deal with the peanut allergies of one student and want a better compromise.
       The Board of Education voted 7-0 to have federal Civil Rights representatives visit the district and determine whether it should maintain its nut-free status for Hevel Elementary.
       Superintendent Nancy Campbell said Hevel Elementary was recently made into a nut-free school to accommodate for a student that reportedly had 31 severe allergic reactions to nuts last year, including through airborne contact.
       She said when she spoke with a physician, as well as the district's attorney, compromises like a specific table at lunch or a peanut-free room wouldn't satisfy the conditions of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 states institutions that receive federal funding can't discriminate against those with disabilities.
       "It's a difficult case for everybody," she said.
       Resident Kathy Liebau was opposed to the ban because it restricted what foods could be at the school, and wasn't supported by the law.
       "There is nothing in the act that says reasonable accommodations should affect the life of the rest of the population," she said.
       She and her husband, Ted, asked that the board reconsider it because it was a bad policy, even suggesting that Campbell has an agenda due to supporting the ban. Board President Anita Banach stepped in to say otherwise, stating that the remaining students were not in any sort of danger by not having peanut products.
       "It's uncomfortable and it's irritating and it's emotional, but it's not unsafe," she said. "There is nothing to be hidden here, we're looking for an answer."
       The majority of board members agreed there should be a more reasonable compromise to the situation instead of a ban.
       "If we only had one option and that was to make the building peanut free, then I don't think we would be having this conversation," said Vice-president Mike Stobak. "But seeing there is other options, I would say instead of going to the extreme maybe we start with some interim that the doctor has determined is acceptable."
       Trustee Greg Jacobson said asking everyone to change for one person wasn't teaching the right life lessons to the student.
       "We're sending the wrong message, it's a false sense of security," he said.
       John Gierak, the district's attorney, said having the school as a nut-free school is the best practice, but suggested that Civil Rights representatives could come in and determine that for the district.
       Resident Jane Clark said it'd be a different story if the child died at the school due to the allergies, but the issue was a matter of switching peanut butter sandwiches for other foods.
       "Why risk a kid's life?" she said.
       Resident Rosemary Nickerson said it was important for an elementary school to have the ban because the children aren't old enough to respond to their allergic reactions accordingly.
       "They can't sense the conditions coming on," she said.
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