In recent years, there have been an increasing number of reports about cases involving serious injury or death of students from an allergic reaction to peanuts. In the most recent case, Hopkins Elementary School in Virginia is being investigated after the sudden death of Ammaria Johnson, a first grade student who suffered a severe allergic reaction after a fellow classmate gave her a peanut. Emergency crews responded to the school, but the little girl was already in cardiac arrest when they arrived and she could not be resuscitated.
Ammaria’s death raises questions about how schools, who are faced with managing the medical needs for an increasing number of students with peanut and tree nut allergies, are prepared to handle students with severe allergies. In this case, Ammarie’s mother brought her daughter’s medication, including Benadryl, an Albuterol inhaler for asthma, and an all-important Epipen, to the school in the beginning of the school year and explained the severity of the allergy to school officials. Despite the school being put on notice, the school told the mother that “they had everything they needed and to take Ammaria’s medications home.”
The consequences of the school’s alleged negligence in this case may result in legal and financial liability for the elementary school, including a negligence lawsuit brought by the family of the deceased student. Whether the elementary school can be held liable for Ammaria’s death is something that a court will have to decide. However, regardless of the negligence claim that Ammaria’s mother may have against the school district, it must be noted that this is every parent’s worst nightmare. If there’s anything to learn from this tragic death, it’s that school officials and parents need to work together to make sure that allergic students are not exposed to potentially fatal foods and that another life is not lost.
While such cases like Ammaria’s are infrequent, these instances are alarming and increasing. School officials should be concerned about the possibility of having to deal with a life-threatening allergic reaction on school grounds. If your institution has questions, concerns, or would like more information about the best practice measures to reduce exposure to allergens at school, please email Cynthia Augello at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (516) 357 – 3753. **A special thanks to Hayley Dryer, a third-year law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, for helping with this post.