We present to you the Food Safety Bill. While this is widely lauded as the first major overhaul of U.S. food safety law since 1938, most are overlooking one small but crucial component. Yes, this law will allow our government to recall bacteria-laden food before it sickens a way-too-large population in our country. This is not to be dismissed. But Poker Chick is celebrating is the component that formally recognizes the government's role in protecting its citizens with life-threatening food allergies.
We can hear our Republican readers groan now. Why should the government stick its nose into what our kids eat? For those not yet convinced, allow us a little story:
Many of you have read about Poker Chick's frustrations at the reactions she has to deal with when managing Mini's food allergies. What many of you haven't heard is the saga that was getting Mini into school.
1) Hyper-neurotic food allergy parent tours local school a year before Kindergarten. Inquires about food allergy policies. Talks to understanding and somewhat knowledgeable administration. Asks around. Satisfied, decides not to move.
2) Unforeseen snag: local school is full (don't get us started on that civil rights issue), sent to nearby "alternate" school without a choice.
3) Forced to enroll. Try contacting administration in local school to get tour. Denied. Try contacting administration, letting them know about serious food allergies and asking about policies and process for putting health plans in place before September.
You know where we're going with this, don't you?
4) Approach administration at orientation. Dismissed and told to discuss with teacher first day of school. Follow up with polite email as to why this needs to be discussed sooner.
5) Several weeks later, get call from principal. Mocked for being neurotic, told "you need to relax" and pushed off until September.
6) Immediately write to Special Ed committee to get help and formally request accommodations (i.e. Medical IEP plan noting epipen available at all times) so that child can attend school without either dying or causing her mother daily heart palpitations.
7) Watch the calendar move closer to September. Realize mini has nowhere safe to go. Panic. Lie awake at night. Try and convince yourself to "give it a try" as staff has suggested, despite emergency plans in place. Realize this would cause you immediate alarm if you left the building.
8) Finally meet face to face with administration (2 days before school starts). School does not yet have full time nurse. Principal's reaction to epipens at lunch is "we'll ask if student teachers would mind but can't force them". Principal points out they have other children with "real medical conditions."
This measures "through the roof!" on the Poker Chick scale of ridiculousness.
9) Send letter after letter to the special education committee that school is days away and your child still has no safe place to go to school. Remind them this "alternate" school randomly assigned was not your local school anyway and request transfer. Rinse and repeat.
10) Two weeks after school starts as your child watches all her friends go off you realize you are not equipped to homeschool and enroll your child in private school. Cry like a weak fool when they acknowledge your request for epipens available and take your concern seriously.
11) Receive response from special ed committee for meeting. 6 months later. Attend meeting. Request for accommodation (next year at this point) denied as your child is "too smart" and they do not feel medical issues affect learning. Remind them your child is entitled to a "free and appropriate education" by law and that they are refusing to create a safe enough environment for her to attend school and learn anything.
Poker Chick sure wishes she lived in Clayton right about now.
Receive blank stares, shrugs, and numbers for lawyers.
12) No, this ain't no 12 step process. The story ends here, peeps. Think we need help yet?
Parents of children with food allergies have been working for 5 years to get FAAMA signed into law. What good does it do? Imagine if the principal in our little story had a federal law acknowledging the "real medical condition" of food allergies, and providing education AND guidance on how to keep these children safe in your school? Imagine if Poker Chick had not been fortunate enough to be able to send her child to private school and had to decide between "giving it a try" or homeschooling?
Last week, a 7th grader died after accidentally eating the wrong thing at school. The reaction may not have been preventable, but with an epipen and proper emergency plan the death could have been. Imagine what might have happened if the principal of that school had national guidelines for managing food allergy reactions at school before this had happened?
Our heart goes out to this girl's family. Her death was a terrible and (sadly) preventable tragedy. Every kid with food allergies should have an emergency plan. It's not hard. It's not expensive. It's not even inconvenient, other than the few minutes of training required. It is not difficult to obtain epipens or use one. What's difficult is getting people around this stubborn mindset that we are being "neurotic". Why? Poker Chick has no idea why. But sadly, many people are quite mean when having to deal with allergies and refuse to give up their peanut butter. So if this law helps people understand their role in keeping these kids safe, it could save a lot of lives.
So thanks, Obama. Here's hoping you have a good time in Hawaii. And please don't pass the macadamia nut butter.