Thursday, July 01, 2010

Troubling case against homeschool group

Homeschool case sees unwanted intervention by the Indiana Court

The mother of one of the children filed a complaint with the Commission, accusing the other mothers of dismissing her child from the group because of a disability.  The Thomas More Society is representing the group and claims the accusations are false. But what is most troubling, according to attorney Peter Breen, is that the Indiana Civil Rights Commission is overstepping its boundaries.


As the former Moderator of a homeschool group I know first hand that sometimes it is necessary to dismiss a family who refuses to follow the groups rules. For the courts to impose themselves and tell homeschoolers who they MUST associate with is outrageous.

 Who Could Eat What’ at the Group’s Banquet.

FACES’ litigation arose when one mother whose daughter allegedly suffered from a serious food allergy insisted that her child have a special diet at the group’s banquet. FACES’ leaders believed in good faith that a different home-prepared meal would pose less risk to the girl’s health. But the mother circumvented the leaders’ decision, then filed a civil rights charge, claiming “disability discrimination” by reason of FACES’ alleged failure to “accommodate” her daughter’s allergy problem, and then she filed another charge of “retaliation.”

Food allergies are a real problem, but often the parents of children with food allergies make outrageous demands. The courts should not be able to dictate what other children can or cannot eat due to another child's food allergies.  We had one member whose child was allergic to peanuts. She DEMANDED that we prohibit other children from bringing any peanut products or anything (including drinks) from Chick-fil-A  (supposedly they use peanut oil to fry stuff) to park days and threw a hissy fit when we refused to capitulate to her demands. And keep in mind we were meeting at a PUBLIC PARK where anyone would be free to come, not just members of "our group". We did offer to have a "peanut free table" where her child could sit at park days and as we are member led we pointed out that she was FREE to arrange her own "peanut free" activities. I guess I should be thankful she didn't sue us. 

In the Indiana case the girl was supposedly allergic to chicken The homeschool group said the mother could bring a home-prepared meal for her but the Mother went behind the groups back and arranged for the banquet hall staff to prepare a steak dinner for her daughter (I am assuming that this led to additional cost to the group as steak is more expensive then chicken). Judge rules against home-school group on discrimination claim

Frankly I fail to see why The Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) is involved in this dispute. This case could have an impact on ALL HOMESCHOOL  GROUPS, especially those of us who are INCLUSIVE and meet solely for educational purposes.

11 comments:

Marlis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marlis said...

I removed the previous comment because I hit preview and it posted it. There were too many errors to leave it there, so here is the edited and corrected version.
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This is a disturbing case, you are right. There are multiple individuals in our homeschool group who have food allergies and the various parents take steps to make sure their children eat the food they provide themselves. My children are familiar with food allergies (because my dd's best friend has several life threatening allergies) and are as such very cautious. But to go as far as the mother of 'chicken girl' is unrealistic. Now, all that being said, I do want to point out that there are some individuals who are so severely allergic to the offending proteins that even airborne exposure can induce an anaphylactic episode. My daughter's friend cannot be around shrimp or fish when it is being cooked. She starts to break out in giant hives and her throat starts to swell and close up. Her other allergies are contact and ingestion induced and just as deadly.
However, in a group setting the parents of that child have never made any outrageous demands. They bring her food and drink and that's that. If it were a seafood cook-out they'd simply not come rather than expect a whole group of individuals to change all their plans. Shame on the mother and a bigger 'Shame' on the Indiana Civil Rights Commission for allowing this to go this far. This could very well set a precedent and encourage other outrageous demands. Should I sue the homeschool group I belong to because they meet outside in parks whenever possible because that means I cannot take my allergic daughter? Should I be allowed to force these families to bend to the needs and whim of one family? Or maybe I should sue the local 'Junior Theater' organization to hold their classes and activities in a new building because my daughter cannot tolerate the over 100 year old structure it is currently occupying. I could go on and on because I can come up with about 20 different organizations I could now fairly successfully sue because my allergic child cannot participate in their activities. One would certainly hope that 'chicken girls' mom has thoroughly scared the other people in their town into making a wide berth around her.

AFSS said...

The peanut boy was a case of airborne exposure could induce an anaphylactic episode, so I totally understood the Mother's fear. BUT we were meeting in a public park. There was NO WAY to keep peanuts 100% out of the park, which was what the Mother wanted. The best we could do was educate our members about the boys allergies so they would be aware that they shouldn't go near him IF they had handled peanuts, peanut products, or anything from Chick-fil-A (the Mother was very emphatic about Chick-fil-A products for some reason). Making sure the boy stayed safe from peanuts had to be up to the Mother and the boy himself.

I have a cousin who is allergic to peanuts and it has never been a big deal. We just make sure to tell her if a dish has peanuts in it and she doesn't eat it.

Anonymous said...

I'm the homeschool mom of a boy with multiple life-threatening food allergies. Yes, he's airborne allergic to peanuts and contact allergic to milk. We homeschool partly due to public schools not being safe for him. We have had to leave a couple of homeschool groups due to unkindness.

I do not make demands or treaten to sue. When I introduce my family, I state our needs of a peanut free environment and food kept to one area with kids wiping their hands after eating. If this doesn't happen, I just leave. Then have a talk with my son about how to treat other people with disabilities. I feel very lucky to have a small group of homeschool friends who "get it".

I think that those of you who are not willing to accommodate a child for ONE MEAL or SNACK are selfish. Please think about what you're teaching your kids.

Marlis said...

Anonymous, back-atcha. You are making a statement about it being selfish to refuse to accommodate a person over ONE meal. I contend that the family in the lawsuit is selfish. She (the mother) expected an entire group of people to change their budgeted banquet meal to suit ONE PERSON for One MEAL! And that even though the group was more than willing to accommodate that child's special dietary requirements with a special, allergy friendly meal.

I don't consider my homeschool group selfish because they won't have indoor park meetings except during inclement weather. My daughter is one person. Why would I spoil the fun of some 30 odd and sometimes more indivduals? And if we did how would we feel about that? The school my daughter used to attend has a lot of kids with life threatening allergies. One of the reasons for that is the special accommodations that are made for the children. But its within reason. The younger classrooms are nut free but not milk or egg free. Kids still bring bread, cookies etc. There is an allergy table in the lunch room. But the parents too make sure no one is inconvenienced by their child's allergies. Lets say when the school has International Week. On one of those days is International Food day. Dozens of parents in that school bring food from other countries. And I have never heard a parent of an allergic child complain that it was selfish that those foods aren't allergy friendly.

Alright, my daughters' allergies aren't life threatening, but they certainly have been very life altering and restricting and I've never once expected someone to make accommodations for that. It is my responsibility to make accommodations that allow her to take part in something or find a good alternative for her. If we can't do something or go somewhere we don't. And yes, she missed out on some really cool activities in her school because of her allergies. And while she was sad and at times mad I made it clear that this is her burden to bear. When her class went with the whole school to the yearly Outdoor Learning Experience Day my daughter simply did not go with them. It would have never occured to me to expect the school to change that day because of one child, even for ONE DAY.

The mother in that lawsuit successfully taught her daughter to be selfish and expect the world to soley cater to her. Nice job. But then the mother probably took notes on the case in Oklahoma Federal building case where one allergic individual successfully forced the entire building of employees to be completely fragrance free. Regular shampoo, deodorants, creams and lotions, scented candles, airsprays etc all banned. I consider that selfish. My dd has sensitivies to some of those things too. I am preparing her for a professional life she can lead in her own company or out of her home office if she needs to rather than teaching her to expect the world around her to change for her.

Alasandra said...

I agree with Marlis.

Also I am not sure what you mean by accommodate. The homeschool group that is being sued offered to allow the Mother to bring a home cooked meal for her daughter to eat. If the child truly had life threatening allergies that would seem to be the "safer" accommodation. Then the Mother would be able to insure that none of the food her daughter ate or none of the utensils used to prepare it came in contact with CHICKEN.

As for my homeschool group and the peanut boy. We were IN A PUBLIC PARK. There was no way for the group to prevent other people who were not members of the group from bringing peanuts or items from Chick-fil-A to the park. We offered to have a "peanut free" table and to warn people that if they had handled peanuts or anything from Chick-fil-A to thoroughly wash their hands before approaching the boy.

Funnily enough this same Mother takes her son to the grocery store and there are plenty of peanuts there. So yes I think she was the one who was unreasonable to expect everyone else to forgo peanuts because her son couldn't have any and for the group to somehow prevent the general public from bringing peanuts to the park.

Marlis said...

Good point Alasandra, a homecooked meal is always safer. I saw first hand how a 'safe ingredient' meal at a local restaurant cooked even to the parents specifications still managed to make my daughter's friend head for the benadryl. A mere drop of butter (most likely) from a cooking utensil passed over the plate or the steak contaminated the food to the point where her throat started to close up. If a child is really that dangerously allergic homecooked food is the only absolutely safe option.

I think your approach with a peanut free table and clean hands if very accommodating. What about the other kids not affiliated with the group? Wanna bet some had just finished eating their PB&J sammies before running to the slide again? While I agree that allergies are a very real danger and I am glad that food companies have to clearly label foods there has to be a point where the allergic individual or if a child's family takes responsibility and accepts that it is impossible to safeguard evry single location.

Alasandra said...

I know first hand that often when you eat out food can come in contact with other food. I have a food sensitivity to scallops. Funnily enough other shellfish do not bother me. Anyway I ordered an oyster platter and got sick. Turns out the particular restaurant I was eating at cooked the oysters with the scallops. I learned not to order anything fried or to eat seafood casseroles (which might contain scallops). So IF I had been the Mother and my daughter's allergy was life threatening I would have much preferred preparing the home cooked meal to risking the banquet hall staff accidentally allowing something the child was allergic to coming into contact with the food. Your example of the butter from a cooking utensil shows how easy it is.

I have a cousin who has been diabetic from birth. He understands he can not eat sweets even though his siblings can and that he has to ask what the ingredients are in things before he can eat them. His Mother taught him to take responsibility for his diet as she knew she could not be with him 24/7. And he has been doing this from a very young age.

Children with food allergies need to do the same thing and it is up to their parents to teach them.

Marlis, I think you have a great attitude toward your daughters allergies and are doing a wonderful job preparing her to live a productive life in the world.

Alasandra said...

You asked
"What about the other kids not affiliated with the group? Wanna bet some had just finished eating their PB&J sammies before running to the slide again? "

Well the Mother wanted us to somehow prevent people we didn't even know from bringing peanuts, peanut products or items from Chick-fil-A to the park so that wouldn't happen. How we were suppose to accomplish this I haven't a clue. She didn't seem to understand the concept of a Public Park. According to her someone could just stand at the gates and tell people if they had peanuts, peanut products or items from Chick-fil-A they couldn't enter.

I lost all sympathy for her position when I saw her at the grocery store with her son. There was a huge bin of fresh peanuts on the produce aisle, but somehow his being in the vicinity of the "KILLER PEANUTS" at the grocery store wasn't a problem. Probably because she knew the store wouldn't throw out all their peanuts just to accommodate one boy they would tell her to leave the kid at home.

www.honeyfern.org said...

Odd that this parent should feel the world should alter itself to fit her child. I understand completely how she feels with regard to safety, but she is being unreasonable.

Marlis said...

Alasandra, my dh is allergic to scallops as well but can eat shrimp, crabs and lobsters just fine. We never tried oysters. One time, we ordered crab cakes at Red Lobsters and he became violently ill. Turned out they mix chopped scallops in. At a wonderful Italian food chain is a dish I adore and I know my dh would too but he avoids it. It's shrimp fra diavolo and is cooked with oyster sauce. My daughter's friend eats with us all the time. The mom sometimes gets take out for her from a few local places but I feel nervous to do that. I had read a few years ago how a girl died after eating a sandwich from a local eatery. She had ordered the same sandwich for years but then they changed one ingredient to the one she had a life threatening allergy to. They had stopped carrying her epipen and the poor teen died at the mall because no one had an epi pen. My dd doesn't anaphylact but i carry and epi pen all the same, we are just used to it. So when my daughter's friend eats with us it's food I've cooked and know is safe. I use a special sponge (not contaminated) to double wash everything that comes in contact with her food and drink and so far she's never had to go for the benadryl. It's a good thing she likes my cooking too LOL.

People with life threatening food allergies are living in denial if they think they can control the world. They can only control their reactions to the challenges they'll live with. I can understand that very young children need extra care and supervision and nut free classrooms etc are a good idea. But the the mother of that teenager in the lawsuit was unreasonable and as you concluded Alasandra, clearly only wanted to control the group rather than only and truly what her daughter was eating/exposed to.