Parents decry school's peanut-free policy

BROOKLINE – The school board secretary who recently resigned in protest over the proposed peanut-allergy policy at the Captain Samuel Douglass Academy is circulating a petition asking the board to stop the daily lunch box checks and allow children to bring snacks that may have traces of peanuts.

Mary Kay MacFarlane said she and her husband, Andrew, object to the daily lunch check, which they consider a “search and seizure” and spent Saturday morning at the town dump collecting signatures.

The couple also says banning any snacks that contain possible traces of nuts is unnecessary and a burden on families.The couple have three children: a 4-year-old, a 7-year-old who attends the Richard Maghakian Memorial School, and a 9-year-old who is a pupil at the Samuel Douglass Academy.

“We want them to get a more moderate policy. We understand the need for the anaphylactic child, but we don’t feel the current measures are reasonable and working,” the former secretary said.

She said she and her husband are circulating a second petition asking the school board to televise its monthly meetings.

“The school board meetings are not that well attended, unless there’s a crisis topic,” MacFarlane said, adding that other school boards, including Hollis and the Hollis/Brookline cooperative district, televise meetings.

MacFarlane said the school board has said it isn’t set up to broadcast from its meeting space in the library.

“They have a TV hookup in the gym or they could have the meetings at the Town Hall,” she said, listing other possible locations.

MacFarlane said she’s certain she isn’t the only parent who is unhappy about the proposed nut policy or the procedure currently employed.

After her resignation two weeks ago, she said, “My phone rang off the hook. I had a lot of calls supporting me, saying if I organize it, they’ll sign and be part of it.”

The board plans to continue discussion of the proposed policy when it meets Sept. 23. Meanwhile, signs on the front door of the school building announce that nuts are not allowed into the building.

MacFarlane said the procedure is unrealistic, citing a lapse last week, just before the start of the new school year.

During a lunch for teachers held in the building, a local caterer who wasn’t informed of the policy inadvertently delivered a dessert that contained nuts. Once they discovered the mistake, school officials contacted the caterer and had staff disinfect the dining area and furniture. Teachers were also asked not to take leftovers into classrooms or other areas of the building.

“People are not happy with the policy and people want it changed,” MacFarlane said. “Where does it end? In a food-less school?”

The former secretary said that she and her husband wrote a letter to the school district last year complaining about the daily lunch box check.

Now, they’re sending their daughter to school without food.

“She buys a snack at the cafeteria, and if she doesn’t like the school lunch, I bring her home at lunch,” MacFarlane said, adding that she makes sure her daughter washes her hands before and after eating. “It’s a little more work, but it’s doable.”

Last week during the school board meeting, MacFarlane told officials that she and her husband do not object to efforts to protect children with life-threatening allergies, although they are concerned that daily lunch checks could be “distressing for children to go through.”

School officials said they consider the procedure a safety measure.

Asked what he thought about the petition drive, school board chairman David Partridge said he had not seen the petitions yet.

Partridge said that several years back the board taped and broadcast meetings, but with little, if any, feedback.

“Nobody was upset when it stopped,” he said.

The board would resume taping and broadcasting if there is interest, Partridge said.