Nut products to be banned at middle school

Sep 13, 2021

Nut products will be prohibited at the Dartmouth Middle School due to concerns that eating at desks rather than in the cafeteria could increase the risk of exposure, School Committee members said at their Sept. 13 meeting.

Although students clean the desks where they are sitting regularly, school officials questioned whether that cleaning was adequate to prevent exposure. 

The district banned nut products last year during Covid conditions. 

Committee member Mary Waite, who has a child with nut allergies, said she assumed that ban continued this year. Some parents expressed concerns about the ban being lifted when this school year started, she said.

Committee members noted that middle schoolers are especially vulnerable because they move among different classrooms all day, which increases their potential exposure. 

The reason students eat at their desks rather than the cafeteria, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford said, is to allow ample social distancing while eating as Covid protocols remain in place.

Masks can also hide potential warning signs of allergic reactions, such as hives, committee member Mary Waite said.

These factors “create a dangerous atmosphere for these kids,’’ she added.

Middle schoolers are a particular focus because of their circumstances. 

High school students are older and can be more responsible for their own health, while elementary students stay at the same desk for the day and are closely supervised, committee members said. 

A decision on whether nut products should be allowed at other grade levels besides middle school will be left to the administration.

“We really need to evaluate this,’’ committee chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins said in advocating for the ban. “The risks are high, and I’m not sure the losses are that much.’’

Committee member John Nunes initially questioned whether a nut product ban would be expanded into other restrictions, noting that some students might be allergic to gluten, for example, or strawberries or carrots.

But he eventually agreed with the ban and suggested it might be made systemwide.

“At the end of the day, it’s a matter of protecting the students,’’ committee member Chris Oliver said in supporting the ban.

The ban should be readdressed when all students are back eating in the cafeteria and masks are no longer required, Waite said.