LYNNFIELD — The School Committee will tentatively be voting on updated regulations associated with the Life-Threatening Allergy Management Policy during its next meeting on Tuesday, June 4.

Two parents urged the School Committee to incorporate an opt-out provision into Policy JLCF last month.  One of the regulations for the Life-Threatening Allergy Management Policy, which was adopted in 2022, stipulates that, “Students at the elementary schools, with diagnosed life-threatening food allergies and are prescribed an EpiPen, must eat at the nut-safe tables.”

School Committee member Jim Dillon said during a May 22 meeting that he and School Committee member Jenny Sheehan, who serve on the Policy Subcommittee, reviewed Policy JLCF and its guidelines.

“It’s become apparent to me that our current life-threatening allergy management guidelines are not working well for all students,” said Dillon. “The way it is set up right now is damaging some kids’ educational and learning experience in the Lynnfield Public Schools. It can affect a lot of things such as a kid’s self-esteem and their learning. If a student is sitting in a math lesson and is worried about sitting at the table in the cafeteria, they are not going to learn math. It can have a ripple effect. We can’t have that.”

Dillon said the subcommittee discussed revised Policy JLCF with the school system’s attorney, Kelly Gonzalez.

“That change in policy has set off a lot of consequences,” said Dillon. “One of the things that became apparent to me is that requiring students with a food allergy to sit at a special table can be considered an act of discrimination against that child. It could be a violation of that child’s right to a free public education.”

While Dillon said the language for the new regulation has yet to be finalized, he said Gonzalez is recommending that it be “handled on a more individualized basis” either through an individual health plan (IHP), a 504 plan or an individualized education program (IEP).

“We are recommending to strike that language and replace it with language that would basically say a nut-safe table will be provided in the cafeteria in all of the schools during lunch,” said Dillon.

Sheehan said the proposed change would not be a “one-size-fits-all” regulation. She said the current policy requires students who have life-threatening allergies who are not allergic to nuts to still sit at the designated nut-free table.

“The nice thing about this version is when you make it individualized, anyone with that allergy is going to be on an individualized health plan,” said Sheehan. “It’s going to force parents to decide collectively with the principal, the nurses and the team what is best for that individual child.”

Chair Kate DePrizio said Interim Superintendent Tom Geary and the School Committee observed lunches at both elementary schools, and said school officials have discussed revising the policy with the district’s physician, Nurse Coordinator Toni Rebelo, Summer Street School Principal Karen Cronin and Huckleberry Hill School Principal Melissa Wyland.

“We truly tried to exhaust all facets of this to ensure we are doing the right things not only for our students’ safety and their mental health, but also for our staff,” said DePrizio. “Throughout this, there have been differences of opinion. This is a big and concerning issue to all of us. I think everyone is coming at it from their own perspective and their background, but throughout that, there has been a focus and a pursuit of continuing to collaborate and being in partnership no matter that difference of opinion.”

School Committee member Jamie Hayman asked how would elementary students with life-threatening allergies be monitored when they will be allowed to sit “anywhere” in the cafeteria.

DePrizio said students will “still have their EpiPens in the lunchroom with them.”

“Those protocols haven’t changed,” said DePrizio. “I think we should have ongoing conversations about whether there should be changes to lunch monitors to take into consideration for implementation, but this is well-protected. It’s actually a legal statute.”

Hayman expressed concerns about the “practicality” of monitoring students with life-threatening allergies.

“We are talking about 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds,” said Hayman. “I am totally fine for choice whether it’s with a parent opt-out or through the policy itself. I just want to make sure we are being accurate and are not putting ourselves and our students at-risk.”

Hayman said the revised regulation’s language should be updated to reflect that the designated life-threatening allergy table applies to all allergies and not just nuts.

School Committee Vice Chair Kristen Grieco Elworthy thanked Dillon, Sheehan, Geary, Rebelo and the Administrative Leadership Team for frequently discussing the Life-Threatening Allergy Management Policy over the past month.

“I was more on the more conservative side when this first got brought up,” said Elworthy. “I don’t have kids with allergies and my immediate reaction was similar to what Jamie described because in the end, it’s our votes that make the change and if the vote puts a kid at-risk, it’s a scary idea. I don’t think there is a lot of question here based on what Jim and Jenny concluded with counsel, but outside of that recommendation, there are other ways of doing this. We have to figure out how to implement it.”

Geary said he supported the Policy Subcommittee’s recommendation of changing the Life-Threatening Allergy Management Policy due to legal and social-emotional reasons.

“There was a lot of research, a lot of conversations and a lot of varying opinions that have gone into this,” said Geary. “My recommendation is to follow the legal advice of the attorney. Secondly, having a student feel anxious or ostracized about something that we can change safely and reasonably, and going against the will of families, does not sit well with me at all. It’s something I wrestled with and I could not get past it. There are many more discussions to be had. There will be meetings and the plan is to implement this on the first day of school next year.”

Before the School Committee discussed updating the Life-Threatening Allergy Manager Policy, Chestnut Street resident Ashley Staab thanked the School Committee and Geary for listening to her concerns about it. She also thanked the 60 parents who have told her they support changing the policy.

“The stories I have heard from parents and children were both heartwarming and heartbreaking,” said Staab. “I urge you to consider the voices of the community and listen to the voices of the parents and children directly affected by this policy, and recognize the power of choice and the positive impact it can have on the well-being of our students.”

Homestead Road resident Leah Hook gave an overview of her experiences of trying to get the policy changed for the past two years. While she said Cronin and Rebelo were sympathetic to her and other parents’ concerns, Hook said the parents were repeatedly told that revising the allergy policy was “off-limits.”

“Many parents over many months were more or else told we could not do anything, this was the way it was and we needed to move on,” said Hook. “I want to set the record straight that this is not a novel issue. Some of you may be hearing this for the first time, but many parents who have kids with allergies have been asking for help and a dialogue for almost two years. No one is a greater expert about their kids’ allergies than us. We have been at countless pediatric appointments and we have trained our children when they talk to servers at restaurants. We administer Zrytec, Benadryl or an EpiPen. We are there through every bit of it, and to ignore what the parents are asking for is foolish and irresponsible.”

A group of 20 parents gave Staab and Hook a round of applause. DePrizio also thanked both women for sharing their experiences with the School Committee.   

DePrizio thanked Geary, Dillon, Sheehan and other school officials for their work with reviewing the Life-Threatening Allergy Management Policy.