01/20/2012 08:25 EST | Updated 03/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Ontario Parent Concerned About 'Allergy Bullying'

A Renfrew, Ont., mother says her seven-year-old son's allergy to nuts was used to bully him at school, an incident she says took a month for him to get over.

Kerri McDonald said her son, Nevin Prevost, came home from school one day in a panic, ran to the bathroom and began scrubbing his face.

Prevost, who has a severe nut allergy and carries an EpiPen wherever he goes, said the incident began in his Grade 2 French class.

"This boy that was standing beside me, he whispered in my ear, he touched me on the shoulder, and he said 'I ate nuts for snack,'" said Prevost. "And I was kind of worried that he did."

McDonald said she took the incident seriously because she couldn't be sure the boy's hands, rubbed on Prevost's shoulder and collar, weren't contaminated.

"In a sense it's bullying or threatening with a weapon," she said.

Allergy bullying was assault, says advocate

Elizabeth Goldenberg, a lawyer based in London, Ont., who writes a blog about allergies, said schools need to do more to protect children from what she calls "allergy bullying" and said if certain steps aren't taken, they could find themselves liable for failing to protect the children.

"That child who was touched around his collar, he was technically assaulted," said Goldenberg, who has a son with a peanut and tree nut allergy.

A study of 353 people, mostly children, with food allergies published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that 24 per cent of respondents reported being bullied, teased, or harassed because of their food allergy.

McDonald said her son didn't suffer an allergic reaction from the incident. But she said it did have a lingering impact.

"For about a month after he was quite nervous that people might touch him [with an allergen] and he might get hurt," she said.