A school board official in Michigan made a public remark about shooting kids with food allergies -- and it caused her to leave her job. Advocates say it also demonstrates there's still a lack of knowledge and tolerance of the serious medical condition, even among those who work with children.
On Tuesday, suburban Detroit's Clawson Public Schools announced that Board of Education Trustee Linda Grossmann had resigned after making the comment at a school board meeting during a discussion about how children with food allergies have changed what food can be distributed at schools.
"Well, you should just shoot them," Grossmann said at the meeting earlier this month, with a shake of the head and raising her arms as if to indicate she wasn't serious. Some people present responded with laughter.
A video of Grossmann's quip was posted on Facebook by the group Honesty for Clawson Schools last week, prompting hundreds of angry comments and calls for Grossmann's firing.
The Board of Education quickly responded after the clip went viral, and said in a statement Tuesday they were "stunned and saddened" by her "inappropriate attempt at humor." Grossmann did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.
"We will not permit this single incident to interfere with our mission to continue to meet the needs of all our students," the board's statement continued.
But Grossmann's comment points to a larger problem, argued members of an organization that works to find a cure for the medical condition.
"It is abundantly clear that there is a lack of respect and empathy for families managing food allergies," James Baker, Jr., CEO of the Virginia-based nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), said in a statement Tuesday.
Common food allergies include nuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, wheat and soy. Symptoms range from the mild, like hives or nausea, to the more serious, like shortness of breath, trouble swallowing and chest pain. Anaphylaxis, which blocks normal breathing, among other symptoms, is the most severe reaction and is potentially fatal.
FARE says food allergies affect one in 13 children, and the prevalence among children is increasing, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room every three minutes.
For kids with food allergies and their families, managing the potentially life-threatening condition can be a struggle that requires children to monitor medications in addition to what they eat. It also opens them up to bullying, and Baker said comments like Grossmann's exacerbate teasing and harassment and downplay the serious nature of the disease.
In a video of the full school board meeting (beginning 24 minutes in), the context for Grossman's comment is audible.
"There's too many allergies, we have like 20 kids with allergies at this point," someone at the meeting said. After Grossmann's comment, another participant suggested, "Put them all in the same classroom."
The video provoked a storm of comments on Facebook. Mom Julie Redmond Haak, who said her child suffers from severe food allergies, fired off a reply to another commenter's assertion that Grossman was just making a joke:
I am the parent of a student (age, 16), with multiple severe food allergies. Safety in the building and the classroom is a pressing issue. These are life/death decisions that the board should be making with far more sensitivity. Food allergies are considered a disability under Federal law. No one would find it a "joke" if the board were [talking] about killing children with other disabilities. Children die daily from food allergies, even when precautions are implemented. An [EpiPen] is not a magic wand. We will not "lighten up" when it comes to protecting our children.
There are changes being made to improve conditions for children with food allergies. Last year, federal legislation was passed that gives states a financial incentive to require that schools carry the treatment epinephrine, which is administered through devices like EpiPens and is the common treatment for severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. The CDC also released voluntary guidelines last year for schools to manage food allergies.