The Michigan school district where a trustee made a flippant comment about “shooting” children with food allergies is starting the new year off with a new allergy attitude.
Following the infamous incident, which led to the resignation of the trustee, Clawson Public Schools superintendent Monique Beels told Allergic Living that her goal “was to turn a situation around and turn it into a learning experience.”
For starters, Beels took the allergy organization FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) up on an offer to provide educational sessions and resources to school board members, staff and parents.
On January 8, FARE’s director of education Gina Clowes visited the district to provide training that covered the management of food allergies in school, the civil rights of food-allergic students, the recommended accommodations for safety and inclusion, and the need to protect the physical and emotional health of children with food allergies.
This training follows a November 2014 meeting of the Clawson Board of Education where a discussion turned to the challenges for schools in accommodating the fast-growing number of students with food allergies. Trustee Linda Grossmann said, “Just shoot them” – prompting nervous laughter from some in attendance.
A video of the meeting went viral and sparked outrage from parents and food allergy groups, who said the comment showed a complete lack of empathy for and understanding of the needs of children with food allergies. The trustee and the board both later apologized, and Grossman resigned for what she called her “distasteful joke”.
In approaching training, “FARE felt it was critical for Clawson board members, administrators and educators to understand the serious nature of food allergies and anaphylaxis, and – hand-in-hand with that – to fully grasp the appalling and insensitive nature of the comments made by a former Clawson school board member,” said Clowes. “Given the incident, I wanted to leave there knowing that they ‘got it.’”
The superintendent, whose mother and sister both have severe shellfish allergies, said FARE’s training opened her eyes to the world of children with food allergies. “For me, the learning that has come has really been an understanding of food allergies – and life-threatening food allergies – and empathy for the parents,” Beels said.
This training is only one part of the improvements to food allergy awareness in the Clawson district. Beels says the following programs will also be implemented this year:
- A comprehensive review of registration medical forms for children with allergies and called parents to clarify their care. This process, now completed, included ensuring that all children who need a 504 Plan have one and that proper safety precautions are in place.
- A half-day of FARE training at the beginning of the school year for all employees in the district to discuss food allergies and precautions.
- Having a dietitian or nurse speak to the PTA to discuss how parties and events can be inclusive of all students.
The increased awareness of children with special dietary needs will extend beyond those with food allergies. For instance, the district is also looking into better accommodations for students with diabetes.
Clowes feels the school board members, administrators and teachers in attendance at her session heard her message. “What happened was unfortunate, but it does seem as though this incident has made the teachers and administrators more aware of the serious nature of food allergies and more sensitive to this issue, she said. “So that may be the silver lining.”