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Peanut-sniffing Dogs? Not in Maryland Schools

To combat peanut allergies, some Maryland schools might stop offering a lunchtime favorite: the pb&j sandwich

Though they aren’t going to the extremes of other areas of the country, some Maryland school systems are taking extra steps to accommodate the growing number of students who have peanut allergies.

In Montgomery County, the pb&j sandwich could be in jeopardy as a cafeteria option.

Maryland school districts said they would likely not go to the lengths to which a Florida elementary school has gone--requiring children to wash their hands and wipe their mouths before entering a classroom in the morning and after lunch.

“I don’t think we quite go to that extent,” Charles Herndon, a spokesman with Baltimore County schools, said Wednesday after a report that students in one Florida city had to wash out their mouths after lunch. Florida school officials later said that was a misunderstanding.

School officials in Carroll and Montgomery counties said they would not rule out asking for more hand washing.

Marla Caplon, director of the division of food and nutrition services at Montgomery County Public Schools, said, “I agree that washing hands is realistic. That’s as far as I’d go.”

In Edgewater, FL, where a first-grade girl has severe peanut allergies, school officials had a “peanut-sniffing dog” check out the school during spring break and have imposed the hand-washing, according to Reuters. Several parents have suggested that the girl be home-schooled.

Peanut allergies can cause a child a mild irritation, or can be life threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Those allergic to peanuts can develop reactions ranging from hives to anaphylaxis, which can make it difficult to breathe and can cause a severe drop in blood pressure and/or loss of consciousness, according to the clinic.

An estimated 3 million children nationally have some sort of food allergy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Howard County school officials did not return phone calls Wednesday but county schools , as required by Maryland law.

Howard County’s severe food allergy guidelines also say eating in the classroom should be avoided but acknowledge that some students such as those with diabetes or other health conditions may need to snack between meals.

Montgomery County school officials are weighing whether to do away with store-purchased peanut butter sandwiches as a cafeteria option as another way to protect students with peanut allergies, Caplon said.

The district initially offered peanut butter sandwiches as its only vegetarian option about five years ago when it was developing food possibilities for students who don’t eat meat, Caplon said.

“Not a good idea,” she said.

To accommodate children with peanut allergies, the district then allowed schools to choose whether to offer grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwiches as their vegetarian food option, she said.

Now, she said she’s thinking of doing away with offering peanut butter sandwiches altogether, noting that they are not offered during district summer learning programs heavily attended by students who speak English as a second language.

“The fear is one of those students are allergic to peanut butter and … they would not know it,” she said. “For the children who can eat it, it’s the most popular item, but we can’t risk the potential for harming a child who’s allergic to peanuts.”

In Carroll County schools, officials work with parents to develop a plan to keep an allergic child safe, said Marge Hoffmaster, Carroll County schools supervisor of health services. That can range from allowing the child to use wipes to clean surfaces where he or she sits to advising teachers with an allergic child in their classes to refrain from using materials with nuts or serving snacks with nuts.

“I think we do a good job with controlling reactions and we do work closely with the parents so we can meet the individualized need,” Hoffmaster said.

She acknowledged “it’s got to be very frightening to send a child to a school, but not supervising him for the first time in his life. We do everything we can to make sure they are safe while they are with us.”

Additional reporting by Patch.com contributor Kim Lemmonds.

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