2007-08-30 / Editorial

This "Nutty" law goes too far

By: Rep. Joseph N. Amaral, Tiverton/Portsmouth & Rep. Bruce J. Long, Jamestown/ Middletown

With the start of the school year approaching, we find it necessary to express our opposition to a new law that passed in the 2007 legislative session. The law prohibits elementary and middle schools, that have a pupil with an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts, from selling peanut or nut products in their cafeterias. Though this law and its sponsor are very well-meaning, it doesn't solve the real problem that schools must focus on.

This past session, we spoke out and voted against this legislation because it creates unnecessary difficulties for schools and for students with and without nut allergies. Prohibiting schools from selling nut products is not the solution; educating students about the potential dangers of nut allergies is. For example, something as simple as teaching elementary school students at a young age to wash their hands after eating a nut product can go a long way in protecting fellow students with nut allergies.

Students are in school for only 180 days, which means that, under this new law, they are not protected from nut products the other 185 days of the year when they're out of school. If given the proper knowledge in the classroom of how to protect a classmate from being exposed to nut products, students will take what they've learned and apply it outside of school.

Peanut butter and nut products are kid-friendly and inexpensive sources of protein and it will be cumbersome and potentially costly for schools to find suitable protein replacements that students actually enjoy eating. Now the burden will be placed on our schools to find a comparable, yet cost-effective, substitute for nut products. With no increase in education funding to our schools this year, the last thing they need in these difficult times is another unfunded mandate to adhere to.

Another aspect of the new law that troubles us is that schools now have to designate a peanut and tree nut-free table in their cafeterias, as well as a table where other children with nut or peanut products can eat them. During a time when students are desperate to fit in with their peers, it seems almost cruel to isolate them from fellow classmates and subject them to unnecessary ridicule.

Over the course of the summer, we have spoken to several parents who are unaware of this new law and how it will affect their children come September. These parents, several of whom have children with nut allergies, are very concerned about the restrictions placed on schools and students and do not support the mandate.

It should certainly be a priority to protect students with nut allergies, but not at their own expense. This new law paints what should be a manageable situation for schools with a very broad brush and it can have dire consequences for our schools and our students.

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