What is going on? Now kids are using food as weapons…sad! 😦
Late last spring, 14-year-old Sarah VanEssendelft of Mastic, N.Y., experienced bullying worthy of a teen movie.
“There was a group of five girls … and they decided they didn’t want me sitting at their lunch table anymore,” said VanEssendelft. To get her to leave, they all brought in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
For VanEssendelft, it might as well have been arsenic.
Two weeks later, a boy in the back of her class opened up a peanut butter cup. The smell was enough to trigger VanEssendelft’s peanut allergy and send her to the emergency room with breathing problems.
“My throat felt tight and my lips were getting really swollen, really fast,” said VanEssendelft. “I looked like Angelina Jolie.”
On the one hand, mean tricks or sneaking candy looks like mild behavioral problems to school administrators. On the other hand, given VanEssendelft’s serious peanut allergy, those sandwiches might very well have been weapons.
Allergy As Target
Severe bullying and food allergies have emerged as troublesome issues for educators in recent years.
The number of reported food allergies doubled among young children in the last five years, according to researchers at the University of Chicago.
In response, legislators in New York and five other states have passed laws to protect food-allergic kids. Educators in some East Coast cities have outright banned peanuts in elementary schools.
But even with restrictions in place, schools have to find new ways to control the ever-growing problem of bullies.
Despite recent high profile school shootings, the National School Safety Center reports school violence has actually decreased since 1993.
But bullying is on the rise. Between 1999 and 2003, the NSSC reported an increase of the student population who were bullied across grades 6-12.
As VanEssendelft knows, when bullies target food allergies, kids and schools face a serious problem. After the peanut butter cup reaction, some of VanEssendelft’s classmates didn’t believe that her peanut allergy was triggered by smell.
“They said, ‘oh, you just want attention, there’s no way you can be allergic to the smell, this isn’t true,'” said VanEssendelft. The five girls then held a meeting in the bathroom.
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