The mother of a 6-year-old boy with nut allergies wants the city of Palm Beach Gardens to stop selling peanuts during his T-ball games at Gardens Park.
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Last year, Jennifer Quasha’s son played T-ball with his friends despite a severe allergy to peanuts.
The league made special concessions to deliver peanut-free fields for her 6-year-old.
This year, however, in a spring league with nearly twice as many kids, the league said it couldn’t offer the same concessions to keep the raw food out of the atmosphere.
So Quasha complained. She went beyond league officials to the city, only to be turned down. Instead, they suggested her son play at a field where peanuts are not sold at the concession stand. They offered to outfit the coach with an epinephrine pen.
But she wanted her son to play with his friends and she feared the suggestions wouldn’t keep him safe.
So she sued.
On Aug. 5, she upped the ante, asking the federal court to grant an injunction to stop the city from selling peanuts at its baseball complex beginning next month at Gardens Park on Burns Road east of Military Trail.
"Peanuts are a raw food, and if you’re sitting in it and they’re all around you, it’s dangerous," Quasha said. "Someone with food allergies shouldn’t have to sit in their allergen."
Her attorneys filed suit in June, accusing the city of violating the boy’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The league is run by the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, a non-profit, volunteer-based group that is the city’s recognized provider of youth sports. League officials made several moves last fall so Quasha’s son could play.
Among them: His team played first each day; dugouts were swept before his game; and peanuts were not sold until his games ended.
He played without incident last fall, his mother said, and asked to play again this spring.
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But the league, citing the size of its spring league, refused to grant the same accommodations.
With twice as many players, the league said it could not schedule all of the boy’s games first.
The league and the city also would continue to sell peanuts at Gardens Park.
Instead, the league suggested scheduling the boy’s games at the North Palm Beach baseball facility, which does not sell food.
The league said it also offered to sweep the dugouts before the first use each day - though Quasha says she was told they would not be swept - and possibly provide the boy’s coach with an epinephrine pen, which is used to treat serious allergic reactions.
It’s not the first time they’ve faced the issue. In the past, parents of children with nut allergies have worked it out by, for example, sweeping out the dugout, PBGYAA President Tony Badala said.
"We did everything in our power to accommodate this young man," Badala said.
But they didn’t go far enough, Quasha said.
Though she said she appreciated the offer of the EpiPen, she expressed concerns about the coach’s ability to recognize a medical crisis immediately, or to use the device in time to stop it.
"I have the EpiPen on me at all times, and it would be great for a coach to have one," she said. "But I probably would be the one to react faster because the coach is on the field coaching all of those children. Anaphylaxis could be silent. I tried to explain, but they just weren’t getting it."
After speaking with the city, Quasha said she was told her case was closed. She then asked for — and received — a refund for the spring season.
But she didn’t drop the issue.
Quasha said she reached out to the city manager and two members of the City Council. When she received no response by early April, she filed an Americans with Disabilities Act grievance with the city.
"I went as high as I could," she said.
The city’s ADA coordinator and a deputy city manager, Stephen Stepp, responded to the grievance in May, notifying Quasha that the accommodations the city had offered were reasonable.
Stepp, the former police chief, also told Quasha that her son’s allergy, which she described as ’deadly’ in an email last September to the PBGYAA, would pose a direct threat to his health due to the proximity of peanuts or someone who recently had touched them.
"Neither the PBGYAA nor the city have any control over, or the ability to police, what foods are handled or consumed by other children who may have come in contact with (your son) or what equipment other children have handled," Stepp said.
Stepp told Quasha that the city would provide other accommodations, such as placing brooms in the concession stand for parents and volunteers to sweep out the dugouts, and installing a sign encouraging patrons to throw their peanut shells in trash cans.
Peanuts would continue to be sold in the concession stand, Stepp said, because under the ADA, neither the city nor the PBGYAA is required to stop selling them.
"PBGYAA operates the concession stand, and it is permitted to sell whatever legally permissible concessions it chooses," Stepp said.
Quasha rejected the accommodations. Her son just wants to play baseball with his friends, she said, and it was hard for him to see them in their uniforms this spring.
"I signed him up, and then I had to tell him I was sorry," she said. "It really was terrible. I would like for him to be included and accommodated in a safe way."