Close

Explaining milk allergies 1:19

Lynne Glover, a Hamilton mother, has filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario against her daughter’s elementary school, claiming discrimination over the way officials handled the girl's serious egg and dairy allergies.

At just six years old, Elodie Glover has already dealt with nine bouts of anaphylactic shock, so her mother decided it was too risky to keep her in school and pulled her out.

Glover says the school has failed to follow its own allergy policies and that her daughter is entitled to accommodation for her situation.

“It all comes down to children having the right to a barrier-free education and to be safe,” Glover told CBC News in Hamilton. “The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board has a perfectly good policy in place, which is what I want implemented. That’s what I asked for.”

'It’s terrifying. Any parent with a food-allergic child knows the feeling.'— Lynne Glover, mother

Glover pulled her daughter out of her Grade 1 class at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Elementary School in October. The decision wasn’t one she made lightly, she says — but Elodie just wasn’t comfortable being there. “It wasn’t just anxiety,” she said. “It was fear.”

The school did make efforts to accommodate her daughter — such as replacing pizza on pizza days with Roma pizza (a local version that is essentially dough and sauce), sending home a letter advising parents of her allergy and even suspending the school milk program for a time this fall.

But Elodie was still around dairy and eggs on almost a daily basis, Glover says. “She was in her classroom with her classmates, while they eat her allergens around her,” she said. “It’s terrifying. Any parent with a food-allergic child knows the feeling.”

“If a child showed up with a peanut butter sandwich, they wouldn’t be allowed to sit in the classroom and eat it. If somebody showed up to Elodie’s classroom with a cheese sandwich, then they just sat at their desk and ate it.”

No comment: school board

Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board spokeswoman Marnie Jadon told CBC News that the board “can’t comment on cases when they’re before the human rights tribunal.”

According to the board’s allergy policy, schools “cannot guarantee an allergen-free environment,” but will make “every reasonable effort” to reduce the risk of exposure for affected children.

The policy also states that the school will create an “individual emergency anaphylaxis plan” for at-risk students. Those guidelines were established from “Sabrina’s Law,” which was created in 2006 and named in honour of Sabrina Shannon, a teenager who suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction during her first year of high school in 2003.

Shannon was also allergic to dairy products. It’s believed she came into contact with cross-contaminated food from tongs used for poutine after she ordered french fries from her school cafeteria.

That’s why a more comprehensive plan is needed, Glover says.

“The purpose of filing the claim with the human rights tribunal was to get to the table. They have all the medical documentation they need to put together an accommodation plan, but have not,” she said. “So this is to make sure that we actually come to the table and find a solution to this.”

No dairy and eggs at school? Not likely, expert says

But it’s unlikely a school could completely get rid of dairy or egg products in the halls and on the playground, says Paul Keith, the president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“These foods are extremely common, so it would be difficult for the school to ban those foods completely,” he says, adding that the onus has to be on the parent and the school to find a middle ground that works.

“You really have to work it out with compromise, talking and accommodation,” he says. “What they could do is develop a plan so that she isn’t exposed.”

Egg and dairy allergies are quite common in childhood, Keith says. It used to be that kids would outgrow them, but as allergy rates as a whole rise, children aren’t outgrowing them as they once did. Some people now face these allergies well into adulthood.

“These life-threatening allergies to egg and milk do exist,” he said.

A case such as this coming to the human rights tribunal is fairly rare, says Laurie Harada, the executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada.

“But when things escalate like this, clearly there are expectations that have not been met,” Harada says. “It’s unfortunate, but a lot of kids have allergies to wheat, dairy and egg. Schools need to look at ways to protect these kids as well.”

“Schools are challenged trying to find ways to accommodate, and parents are challenged too.”

Glover says she knows all about those challenges. “We end up labelled ‘the allergy mom.’ We don’t get the support we need. Any food-allergic parent knows that,” she said. “What we’re going through now is really what parents with peanut allergies went through years ago.”

“I’m not doing this for attention. My daughter has an extremely severe allergy— and I know she’s not the only one.”