Ont. mom files human rights complaint over school's response to daughter's food allergies
Published Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:51AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 16, 2014 9:11AM EST
An Ontario mother has filed a human rights complaint alleging that her daughter is being discriminated against because her school is not doing as much to accommodate her allergy to milk and eggs as it does for children with peanut or tree nut allergies.
Six-year-old Elodie Glover has a severe allergy to eggs and dairy and can’t have any contact with either kind of food. Her mother, Lynne, says her daughter has already had nine attacks of anaphylactic shock, a reaction to allergens that’s often fatal.
Glover says the school, Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Elementary school in Hamilton, took some steps to try to protect her daughter, including sending notes home with Elodie’s classmates explaining the severity of her allergies and asking them not to send in foods containing the allergens. They also switched to no-cheese pizza during pizza days and suspended the school milk program.
While Elodie was in junior and senior kindergarten, she was able to be segregated from the other children during lunchtime, to eat in her classroom alone. But Glover says she’s been told that’s no longer possible now that Elodie is in a Grade 1 classroom in the already-crowded school.
The school told her that they would take all steps necessary to keep her daughter safe, Glover says. But she says her daughter has come home from school having trouble with her breathing, suggesting she’s still being exposed to allergens at school. With Glover not feeling assured enough was being done to keep her daughter safe, in October, she pulled her daughter from the school.
Glover says she understands that it may not be possible to completely ban milk and eggs from schools, but she wanted some co-operation from the school to ensure the whole school was as safe as it could be.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board says its policy is that schools can’t guarantee environments free of allergens, but that it will make “every reasonable effort” to prevent exposure.
After two years of trying to work with the school, Glover filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which recently agreed to accept her application.
Laurie Harada, the executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada, says there is still a problem with many parents not understanding that milk and egg allergies can be as severe as peanut allergies.
“There’s a lot of misinformation about food allergies and what can happen and what constitutes risk,” she told CTV’s Canada AM Thursday.
She says she herself has a child with severe food allergies and understands Glover’s worries.
“Certainly, it’s difficult when you’re handing your kid off to a school where they’re spending the better part of their waking hours, wondering if they’re going to be safe,” she said.
She added that banning or restricting allergens is just one part of handing the risk.
“We also need to be teaching our children that there are certain things they cannot do. They shouldn’t be sharing food, accepting food from others, they need to be putting their food on a napkin or eating out of their containers,” Harada said.
“The friends around them can be taught to be mindful of their friend, to wash their hands, wipe down surfaces. These kids should have adult supervision when they’re eating in cases where they’re very young, because they will need some guidance.”