My daughter is anaphylactic to peanuts and tested allergic to most tree nuts. We started her in a private preschool and were planning to move her to public school for kindergarten, but they separate the allergic child during lunch and allow only one other child (that the teacher selects) to sit with the allergic child.
My daughter also has juvenile arthritis, ulcerative colitis, uveitis and asthma (all diagnosed over the last four years), so she has enough to deal with at her young age. If you look at her, you'd never know she has so much going on. I did not want her to have the added burden of being known as the kid that has to sit at the "special table" at lunch, and I didn't want to run the risk of other kids resenting her for having to sit at the separate table either.
I discovered right before we made the decision to stay with private school that another school in the same district has a "nut free cafeteria" meaning they make sure none of the foods they sell in the cafeteria contain nuts. So the allergic child sits at the end of a table surrounded by kids who buy their lunch. Then the kids who bring PB&J sandwiches can sit at the opposite end. I like that idea as long as hands are washed after lunch, but it would have required making changes at our public school and I didn't have enough time to get that going before we had to make a decision.
The private school has a "nut sensitive" policy in the preschool and kindergarten grades meaning parents are asked not to send nuts to school. It does not guarantee that nuts won't be on campus or at school functions, but it reduces the risk of exposure for those children with an allergy.
For 1st grade and older, there is no policy at the private school, but I think they are going to extend the nut sensitive policy to the 1st grade only next year and evaluate it each year. We have five children with nut allergies in kindergarten this year and a few others who have milk, soy, beef and other allergies.
One option for your child's school would be to see if they'd allow Sunbutter. It is similar consistency to peanut butter and many kids probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference, especially if there's jelly on the sandwich.
My child doesn't like to eat meat so we send meat-free options for her lunch. It is possible for vegetarian children to find enough varieties to keep lunch interesting and healthy, and then have all the nuts they want at home. Here's one site with some options:
For class parties and activities, I (and the other allergic children's parents) always send something "safe" to school so the class can have whatever the parents/teachers bring. I do not expect the campus to be completely nut-free.
One thing to think about as the parent of a non-allergic child is how your child would react if he/she brought peanut butter to school that caused an anaphylactic reaction in a child. Having seen my child have a reaction, I can say it is one of the scariest things I have witnessed. I had no idea what was happening because we have no history of food or drug allergies in our family. I would think it would be traumatic for a child to witness another child being rushed to a hospital or worse... if the child did not survive.
The public school that we decided not to send our daughter to DOES do an educational program for the kids in the classes that have allergic children so they can understand what it means to have a food allergy. The mother of a 1st grader at the school told me that the children in her son's class didn't want to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school after that program because they didn't want the boy to get hurt.
I should mention that our private school does not have a nurse, so it is more important to us to have a policy in place for no nuts because it is an added burden on teachers and school staff to try to figure out whether or not to administer an epi-pen.
I can understand both sides of the debate, and obviously as a mother who has seen her child go into anaphylactic shock, I am biased toward no nut policies, but if I didn't have an allergic child, I would still use the opportunity to teach my child about the importance of human life over a food item and help her understand that her sacrifice during one part of the day five days of the week is little compared to keeping her classmate(s) safe.
Even though there are often children with other food allergies in a class, peanuts are the main focus because of the residue that can be left behind (e.g. on hands, transferred to door knobs, toys, books, etc.).
On a side note, I have read the articles about parents "over-reacting" about food allergies and schools "going overboard" to accommodate children that may or may not have true allergies. Here are some articles that show why a parent of a food allergic child should continue to take the allergy seriously even if the child has not had a major reaction:
This might give some parents who don't understand why parents of allergic children try to put safeguards in place - especially when the children are younger and may not be able to communicate clearly if they're starting to feel strangely.
While my daughter has lowered risk of exposure at school, I still work on educating her in case she is exposed at school or after school activities. Some people may feel like having nut-free policies shelters a child, but my daughter's life is not spent only at school. At least while at school, the focus can be on education and interaction with classmates and not worrying about whether peanut butter residue is on the table or shared school supplies, books, toys, etc.
I look forward to the day when the sublingual therapies for eliminating food allergies are common practice. Right now, our pediatric allergist has spoken with clinical researchers who indicated they are still too experimental and should not be done outside of a clinical study. There is one allergist in my city who is doing them anyway (and apparently with success), but given my daughter's other illnesses, our allergist felt we needed to wait to see how the studies turn out before trying them on my daughter. Hopefully one day soon, this "problem" will no longer exist!