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Mother's outrage makes school trips latest front in the nut-free fight

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled on Tuesday that Air Canada should create nut-free buffer zones around passengers who request special accommodation.

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Following a parent's complaint about teacher conduct on a school field trip, trustees at the Halton Catholic District School Board considered Tuesday whether to review the rules regarding parent and teacher chaperones.

The parent, Maria Damaso, was a volunteer chaperone on a camping trip for Grade 7 students at St. Brigid Elementary School in Georgetown, Ont. She said her 13-year-old son, Anthony, has a serious allergy to peanuts and she wanted to be with him on his first overnight field trip away from home. One evening during the June excursion, Ms. Damaso says she was invited to a teacher's cabin where wine, vodka and canned almonds were being served and consumed by five teachers.

"I think I was shocked, that's the only way I could describe it," she said. "That's against board policy, it's against the school policy, and it's against the camp policy. Let alone the fact of all these policies, there were children on this trip that if there was cross-contamination, they could have died."

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Ms. Damaso said she brought her concerns to school administrators, and then to the school board, but felt her worries weren't taken seriously.

Jim Rowles, superintendent of education at the HCDSB, said that the concerns were addressed, but declined to say how they were addressed or whether the teachers involved did anything wrong because personnel matters are confidential.

Board policy, he said, addressed "general expectations" of teacher behaviour on school trips, and incidents are addressed on a case-by-case basis.

HCDSB trustee Rosanna Palmieri said that the complaint was one of several she has received regarding teachers consuming alcohol during overnight school field trips, and that the allegations should be investigated. She drafted a motion to introduce at Tuesday's board meeting that would require the board to investigate the allegations, review their policies to ensure that they are adhered to during school trips, and require that at least one parent be included as a chaperone on the trips.

Late Tuesday, the matter had yet to be addressed.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education said that school boards are responsible for drafting the policies that govern teacher behaviour during school trips.

In 2006, Ontario became the first jurisdiction to legislate the protection of anaphylactic students - those with potentially fatal allergies. Sabrina's Law requires that school boards develop policies that reduce the risk of exposure and educate the school community about anaphylaxis, but its language is open-ended, and falls short of delineating rules.

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Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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