ROCKY POINT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The first day of school Wednesday for a kindergarten student on Long Island meant health worries for the 5-year-old girl’s mother.
As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported exclusively, teachers in the Rocky Point Union Free School District have refused to abide by what Allison Villafane-Kaplan said is a simple allergy safety request for her daughter, Virginia.
Virginia was excited to start kindergarten, but her mother feared for her daughter’s safety.
“My child can die if she comes in contact with nut residue or nut dust,” Villafane-Kaplan said.
Virginia’s nut allergy is severe. After near-death emergencies, she carries epinephrine.
“I take it everywhere,” Virginia said.
But after negotiating safe accommodations with the Rocky Point School District, Virginia’s mother was astounded by an 11th-hour surprise. The local teachers’ union has refused to require teachers to refrain from eating nut products in common rooms – such as the rooms Virginia will visit for music and art classes.
Villafane-Kaplan said she was told it is a teacher’s right to eat what he or she wishes.
“Shameful is the word that comes to mind,” she said. “They are there to educate and keep our children safe.”
The district did approve a school aide equipped with an epipen, and will hang signs asking teachers to be mindful of her allergy. But the district told Virginia’s parents it cannot mandate what teachers eat.
The issue has defenders on both sides.
“They’re adults. They can eat their peanut butter sandwiches when they get home,” said district special education resource committee chairwoman Jenny Andersson.
But a man said, “The child needs to live in this world, and this world is not nut free.”
The district told CBS 2 it cannot discuss private student matters, and the Rocky Point Teachers Association issued a statement calling safety its top priority.
“We are working collaboratively with the district in assessing the situation and implementing an appropriate and necessary plan of action,” said the statement from Michael Friscia of the union.
For now, children in Virginia’s classrooms are required to be nut free, but teachers are not.
Virginia’s parents said their daughter’s life outweighs a teacher’s right to food choices. Villafane-Kaplan has asked the Teachers Association to reconsider.
It is up to each school district to come up with its own nut policy.
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