PHOENIX -- A federal investigator says an Arizona school district has corrected problems that led to a highly allergic fourth-grader's repeated exposure to peanuts in a classroom last spring.
Mesa resident April Mahaffey filed a complaint with the civil-rights division of the U.S. Department of Education in April after she removed her son from Adams Elementary School in Mesa.
She said she had to take her son to the hospital after he was exposed to "peanut residue" on desks left by an after-school program. Later, the boy's teacher ate a peanut candy bar in his classroom.
The boy's allergies are so severe that he can suffer potentially fatal anaphylactic shock if he is near peanuts or tree nuts, Mahaffey said.
Because of the severity of the student's allergies, he has a formal agreement, known as a 504 Plan, with Mesa Public Schools stating that there are to be no nuts in his classroom or at the table where he sits in the school cafeteria. Failure to follow a student's 504 Plan is a violation of federal law.
District spokeswoman Helen Hollands said the problem at Adams Elementary was corrected before the end of the past school year with staff training and a large sign posted in the classroom stating peanuts were not to be eaten in the room.
Hollands said district officials have not yet decided this school year whether to stock epinephrine injectors under a state law that allows schools to keep the EpiPens on hand and to use them in emergencies.
Officials are "assessing the complexity of implementation within the district, including training and protocols, access to supply and funding," she said.
Hollands said district officials were pleased with the recent letter from the Department of Education, which says the problems were corrected - and even happier that they have a system for alerting students and staff about food allergies.
"We are happy with the letter because we are happy with the outcome," she said.
April Mahaffey tutored her son at home through the end of the past school year. This year, he is back in class at Whittier Elementary, a Mesa school about 3 miles away from Adams.
"The difference is like night and day," said Clark Mahaffey, the boy's father. "Before school started, we went to a meeting with about 20 people, and all of them wanted to understand the problem. Even the janitor was there asking questions about the types of cleaning products he could use in the classroom."
According to the Mayo Clinic's website, peanut allergies are among the most common food allergies in children, causing symptoms ranging from mild skin reactions to fatal anaphylactic shock. The website cautions that allergic people who initially have mild reactions to peanuts can later develop more severe symptoms if they continue to be exposed to them.
Cathryn Creno, The Arizona Republic