The day has finally arrived: It’s time to register your child with food allergies for kindergarten! Typical parents experience a plethora of emotions during this time including a dose of anxiety; they worry whether their children will adjust quickly, make new friends easily and like their teacher. As a parent of a child with severe food allergies you experience all these worries too, but your anxiety runs exponentially deeper: Will my child be safe? Will she suffer an episode of anaphylaxis as a result of accidental contact with an allergen? Will the staff know how to use her Epi-pen in an emergency? Will her life be threatened?
The thought of sending your child to school without you by her side to protect her may seem like you are sending her into a field of landmines: School lunch? Landmine. Snack time? Landmine. Holiday party? Landmine at the edge of a cliff. If you’re lucky, your child’s school will have policies in place to protect her, but more often than not, your school may have inadequate policies or none at all. You may face a frustrating road ahead, but rest assured, it is possible to make the changes necessary to protect your child and others with food allergies.
Without a doubt, the time leading up to my eldest daughter attending kindergarten and her first few months were among the most gut-wrenching, emotional periods in my life. My hope is that in writing this article and providing you some insights learned through my experiences, I can help you make sure your child’s school is ready to deal with her special needs. Note: This article does not discuss the virtues of a 504 plan or IHCP (IEP) which we advocate for every child with food allergy. For a great webinar by Laurel Francoeur comparing both, click here.
So how to begin? Before you can start the process of engaging officials at the school, you must first get your child to appear on their radar. That means registering your child, a process that generally starts early in the calendar year, often before or during March. You’ll want to do this early to give you as much time as possible to prepare.
Understand How the School Operates
Before you jump in and begin advocating for your child, it’s a good thing to understand what schools are and how they operate. A school is similar to a governmental agency in three important ways: it has a rigid hierarchy, it has rules that are the product of a long standing process, and it has its own politics. Your success will be directly related to how well you practice diplomacy and can navigate the bureaucracy. Always remember to treat those you engage with respect, understand how the rules are formulated and put in place, and keep an eye out for who’s really in charge for any given issue.
Build Your Child’s Support Team
There are many people who will need to be part of your child’s “support team”, including her teacher, principal, lunch room supervisor and school superintendent; but the captain of that team at the forefront of keeping your child safe is the school nurse. She is your child’s ultimate champion and one that you need to build a solid, lasting rapport with. In many schools, this is who you will initially meet with to register your child; if not, meet with her shortly afterward as she will be partnering with your child’s teachers to implement classroom policies, working with you and your child’s doctor in formulating an emergency action plan, and educating all involved of the classroom rules regarding food. The relationship you forge with her is critical and will last for years to come, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind and share the concerns that convey your conviction to your child’s safety while maintaining a good rapport.
It is important to keep in mind that, although the nurse’s role is critical, she is probably not the ultimate decision maker with the authority to create or change policy. Your principal and superintendent have the final say, so you will need to spend time establishing relationships with them as well. Be sure to let them know that you’re meeting with the school nurse and working closely with her, but that you consider them to be equally instrumental to your child’s safety. Don’t be afraid to let your concern show; convey a sense that your child has special needs and her well being hangs in the balance. Let them know that you appreciate their personal attention to your child’s circumstances and infer diplomatically that you will hold them responsible if something should go wrong. If they come away remembering your name and that of your child, you’ve set the right tone.
There’s still an important member to identify: your child’s teacher. The teacher will be with your child most of the time and is ultimately responsible for your child’s welfare during school hours. She is the classroom enforcer, the last stand at keeping allergens away from your child.
In many schools, teacher assignments are not announced until the summer but are decided much earlier. While you are meeting with the school principal, impress upon her your need to meet with with your child’s teacher as early as possible to discuss your concerns and your child’s specific requirements. Request advanced notification, keeping in mind that the last thing your principal wants is for you to shake things up with the other parents by having the jump on teacher assignments; assure her that you will be absolutely discreet.
Meet your child’s teacher in the spring, if possible, and again in the fall just before your child begins school, to refresh her memory regarding your child’s special needs.
Educate the Team
How do you ensure your child’s support team is well versed in matters of food allergies and the gravity of your child’s needs? Education and persistence! Don’t assume anyone on the team is well informed on the topic of food allergies as they may not have had much experience and formal training, and that includes the teacher, principal, superintendent and school nurse. Assert yourself and don’t be afraid to tell them what they may already know; if they learn something new, you have advanced their knowledge to help keep your child safe. In any event, you will present yourself as well educated on the subject and ready to advocate for your child.
The first and most important thing to impress upon your team is that reactions to food allergies are not simple stuffy nose and itchy rash affairs; they may lead to anaphylaxis and death. Although it may be difficult, take the opportunity to relay your experiences of bad reactions or close calls with anaphylaxis your child has had in the past. I have shed many tears during some of these meetings but feel it is important to personalize my child and her experiences so that they resonate with her team. Don’t be afraid to site recent news articles about the horrible consequences of anaphylaxis in schools like those of Ammaria Johnson and Max Roseland. Print copies and take them along.
Also make sure they clearly understand that anaphylaxis does not require ingestion of an allergen, but that simple contact (such as might occur when a child shares scissors or a pencil sharpener and then rubs his eyes) is enough to trigger onset of a reaction. Impress upon them that classroom policies are imperative and all that stand between another child’s innocent mistake and your child’s life.
Establish Your Child’s Food Allergy Emergency Action Plan
Of utmost importance is establishing your child’s Emergency Action Plan, the series of steps the nurse or teacher must follow in case your child is known or suspected to have ingested an allergen or is displaying symptoms of allergic reaction. Your plan should be tailored to your child’s specific circumstances and must be agreed upon in advance between you and your child’s doctor. It includes the list of foods to which your child is allergic and the actions to take under specific circumstances, such as if your child is suspected of having ingested an allergen or is displaying certain symptoms. The school nurse may provide paperwork to be completed by you and your child’s doctor, including permission to administer medication. Consider providing more than the basic paperwork to provide a comprehensive action plan.
Here are the steps for preparing your child’s action plan:
- Print a template from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), an excellent source of information for you and your school;
- Take it to your child’s doctor and agree to the proper steps for each contingency and have him sign multiple copies;
- Print copies of a recent photo of your child and affix one to each plan copy;
- Present a copy each to the nurse, principal, and teacher and go through it together step by step to make sure they each understand what to look for and what is expected;
- Make sure to provide the nurse with all your child’s required medications labeled clearly. Before you do, note their expiration dates and be sure to provide the nurse with fresh refills before they expire.
The goal is to make sure you understand and agree to who will be responsible for initiating the action plan, who will have access to drugs like epinephrine, antihistamines and bronchodilators, where the drugs will be located and who is trained and authorized to administer them during an emergency. Also make sure that sufficient backups have been trained and authorized in medication administration in case the primary person is away.
Learn and Influence School Policies
When my daughter started kindergarten, there were few policies in place regarding food allergies. Over time, with persistence, education and considerable effort on my part and the part of other parents, new policies were adopted. Here follow a number of policies which your school should have in place. If they don’t, you should consider advocating for their adoption:
- Ban of foods containing specific allergens from school property – This is the gold standard of policies that best safeguards against accidental exposure to the allergens most responsible for anaphylaxis in the cafeteria, classrooms and playground. This will be difficult to enact, but many schools already enforce such bans for peanuts and tree nuts.
- Ban of foods containing specific allergens from all areas outside the lunchroom – This is second-best in case your school is not willing to ban these allergens entirely, and thus minimizes control issues to the lunchroom.
- Aggregation of food allergic children by grade – Especially in the younger grades where lunch or snack time takes place in the classroom, placing all the children with food allergies in a single class makes enforcement of rules much simpler for all occasions involving food. At my daughter’s school at the beginning of the year, a note is sent home to parents of all children assigned to such a class; it outlines the foods that cannot be brought in and provides a reference to a safe snack list. First thing each morning, the teacher, teacher’s aide or nurse checks all snacks to make sure they’re safe. If there is any ambiguity, the school nurse is the final arbiter. The nurse can keep a stash of safe snacks and swap them for a questionable snack when one is discovered. If your school officials resist this suggestion, offer to donate safe snacks to the cause. It helps to have an up-to-date guide of safe snacks to distribute, consider ours at SnackSafely.com. More about this shortly.
- Establishment of an allergen free table – Even if your school adopts a complete ban of foods containing peanuts and tree nuts, they should designate a table in the cafeteria as “allergen free”. This table should be wiped clean between each lunch period and reserved for children with similar food allergies. Each child should be permitted to bring a buddy to the table, usually for the week, whose lunch has been checked for compliance with the guidelines for that table. Our school traditionally picks a classmate of the same gender at random. A note is sent home with the child one week prior notifying the parents which foods must be avoided and providing them an opportunity to opt out. The buddy’s lunch is checked prior to entering the cafeteria to ensure compliance. You’d be surprised how sensitive children can be, often more so than their parents. Many of my daughter’s classmates would request nut-free lunches so they could sit with her at the special table. Another benefit is that my daughter had the opportunity to have lunch with each girl in her class and get to know each one individually!
Ideally, a lunch aide should be dedicated to the allergen free table, especially for the younger grades. During my daughter’s very first week of kindergarten, a friendly child came by her table to say “hi” carrying her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In this case I was there to stop her and guide her back to her table, but a dedicated adult should be on hand to monitor closely.
- Absolutely no sharing or swapping of food – This is self explanatory but one of the most important rules to adopt. An estimated 25% of the anaphylaxis reactions in school are by children who have never been diagnosed with a food allergy! This rule helps protect all children from accidental ingestion of a food they may not even know they are allergic to.
- Hand wiping/washing for all children after lunch – This is simple but must be performed with adult supervision to ensure compliance. Before children may leave the cafeteria, they must clean their hands with a wet wipe or wash with soap and water. (Remember, allergens are proteins, not germs – the use of hand sanitizers is not sufficient.) After the first few days, this becomes an automatic habit for children and sets the stage for better meal-time hygiene at home! At my daughter’s school, the principal or nurse explains the hand wiping procedure at each lunch period during the first week of school, and the lunch aide ensures compliance at the end of each lunch period. To help facilitate implementation of this rule, you may want to bring a note from your child’s doctor explaining the danger of contact reactions and the importance of hand wiping. You may want to attend your child’s lunch period for the first week to observe and ensure all procedures are being properly administered. This also provides a great opportunity to meet the lunchroom staff and enlist them in the effort to keeping your child safe. Your presence will reinforce your commitment in the eyes of your school officials and remind them that you are monitoring them as well. Should you notice any issues, be sure to discuss potential modifications to the procedures with your child’s support team.
- The nurse attends all field trips – Excursions outside the school present a separate series of challenges to keeping your child safe. The school nurse should be present at all times and come prepared with everything necessary to execute your child’s emergency plan, including a copy of the plan itself as well as the medications indicated in the plan. All the other rules regarding food should still apply, including provision of an allergen free eating space, mandatory hand wiping, and designated lunch buddies. In addition, the nurse should carry the contact details of each student’s parents and doctors in case of emergency. If you have the time, consider volunteering as a chaperon on class trips. Even if there are no opportunities to chaperon, assert your rights as a concerned parent and demand you accompany your child on the trip. As a matter of policy, our school now requests that parents of food allergic children attend.
- No food used for class projects – All school crafts and holiday activities should avoid the use of foods.
Party and celebration guidelines are especially important as these are often times when food is shared, making the prevention of contact reactions especially difficult. Here are a number of important guidelines if your school does not prohibit food at classroom parties entirely.
- Party treats must be chosen from a pre-approved list – The list should include a selection of snacks that are readily available at the supermarket that expressly avoid the allergens in question, both as an ingredient or as part of the manufacturing process as mentioned on the label. These snacks should be in their original, unopened packaging and be approved by the nurse prior to entering the classroom. Given the information in advance, most parents will be happy to buy a safer snack that avoids allergens, especially if they have specific recommendations regarding which snacks to buy. A safe snack list also helps avoid confrontation with other parents when planning school celebrations. Parents often become intolerant and resist when they are overwhelmed by being forced to read food labels they may not understand; providing a comprehensive list of snacks that they recognize and are readily available lifts their burden and makes it easy for them to comply. A list of this sort requires a significant commitment to research and keep up to date; I know because it is one of the first contributions I made to our school system long ago. A major reason for my co-founding SnackSafely.com was to allow other parents and schools to benefit from the work that goes into researching our lists. We invite you to use them directly or as a starting point for creating your own list.
Adoption of the list took a few years before it was strictly implemented at our school. A suggestion for quicker adoption by your school is to come prepared with a list when you first register your child. Most schools do not have the resources to create and maintain such a list on their own but will entertain the use of one that is already prepared. Make it as easy as possible for them to agree. Also keep in mind that, due to limitations of current food labeling guidelines, manufacturers are not required to disclose the potential that a food may contain traces of an allergen. This means that reading the label on a snack is not enough to safeguard a child with food allergies! The final approval for a snack must come from the food allergic child’s parent. Before a celebration involving food, always check in with the teacher and school nurse to confirm that your child can eat the snacks provided.
- Food allergic children may accept alternative treats from a “goody box” maintained by their parents – This one is imperative: Never trust anyone to give your child a treat that was not directly approved by you. Agree that for celebrations, your child’s teacher will help her select a treat from her personal goody box if any of the treats are questionable, and be sure to keep it stocked accordingly with treats you have approved.
- No homemade treats in the classroom – There is simply no way to verify which ingredients a homemade treat contains, even if it is prepared by the most well-meaning parent.
- Goody bags may contain only non-food items – Often during Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, a parent or teacher will send kids home with a goody bag. These should contain only non-food items, such as pencils, pads, stickers, cards, stencils, etc. and be pre-screened by the school nurse.
A Note About Other Allergens
Peanuts and tree nuts capture many of the headlines, but your child may be allergic to other foods. Our daughter provides a good example: though she is highly allergic to peanuts, she also has an allergy to eggs. Even in a school that has adopted stringent rules regarding peanuts and tree nuts, it may take some additional time and effort to have them recognize your child’s specific needs.
Become a Class Parent (But Beware!)
If you’re lucky enough to have the flexibility, you should consider volunteering as a class parent. As a class parent, you have the opportunity to help plan and chaperon class parties, celebrations, and field trips. In doing so you can be involved in party food choices and be close on hand to ensure your child’s safety during the times that are most frenetic and present the greatest challenges.
If we lived in a perfect world, you would work in harmony with other well meaning parents who understand and are sympathetic to your child’s special safety needs. In reality, this may prove to be your most trying issue: dealing with ignorant, argumentative parents who are resistant to change and believe your child should be segregated so as not to inconvenience others! In my case, I volunteered as a class mom for my daughter’s kindergarten class and found myself in direct opposition to other moms who were resentful at having to make a few simple accommodations to ensure the safety of my child and others in her class. Was it really so much trouble to substitute an unsafe pretzel with a safer brand that cost the same and was available at the same store? I wondered how resentful they would be if someone handed their child a homemade cookie baked with arsenic!
It was then that I created the genesis for SnackSafely.com, a one page snack guide to show that there was a variety of snack choices readily available at the local supermarket that would keep the most egregious allergens out of the classroom while ensuring that no non-allergic child would be deprived. Eventually the list was adopted by our school district and is now circulated throughout the country.
Though there were certainly moms sympathetic to my cause, I learned a valuable lesson: Be careful when engaging other parents! It is best not to address your child’s needs directly with them; if you encounter resentment or resistance, simply take note of your concerns and discuss them directly with the nurse, teacher and principal. Let them communicate with ignorant, judgmental and insensitive parents. It’s the job of your child’s support team to enforce school rules and policies, so start at the top and let the policies you helped shape work their way down! Consider asking your school officials to distribute our Open Letter to Parents; it may help foster understanding with other parents and help avoid nasty confrontations.
Persist and Educate!
In summary, safeguarding your child is paramount. It is my hope that your child’s school already has many of these policies in place and is willing to accommodate you by enacting the policies that are still needed. While our school has come a long way and has largely been accommodating, it has been an iterative, sometimes frustrating process. But take heart: always remember that with persistence and education, change will come!
We’re interested in your suggestions, feedback, and anecdotes regarding sending your food allergic child off to kindergarten. Please take a moment out to share with the community by posting below.
So helpful and informative! My little guy will start pre-school next year, so I’m sweating bullets already! This list really will help me keep a clear head and it made me realize it’s not too early to start talking with the school.
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Thank you very much for a very informative post. My PA kids start school this fall and, though they’ll be attending a private school and I’m hoping the hoops I’ll have to jump through to keep them safe will be fewer than at a public school, I’m extremely nervous because the school doesn’t have a cafeteria and all the kids bring their own lunches and eat *in the classroom*. I can request that their classrooms are peanut/nut-free (and I certainly will), but I know that parents often disregard this rule or aren’t properly educated in how to determine whether a food is “school safe” (at least that’s my experience at their current peanut/nut-free preschool). I also worry about resentment from the other parents and kids when they find out they’re now in a peanut/nut-free classroom because of my kids. In addition, they allow in-classroom birthday celebrations with treats , parents rotate snack duty for the whole class, and they won’t have a school nurse until 2013. I’ve been told they have a no-sharing policy for food and I’ve been assured that I can bring in a month’s supply or more of snacks for my kids, and they even have a mini refrigerator in each classroom for perishable snacks. I’m still very nervous and have been drilling in my kids’ heads that they are to never take food from another child at school and they should eat only what Mommy or Daddy sends to school with them. Young kids have such difficulty with generalizing from one situation to another though and I’m afraid I’ll miss role playing a certain scenario with them and they’ll end up eating something unsafe.
My PA/TN child is currently in kindergarten and is also in a private (Catholic) school. It would seem that you might have less hoops to go through to ensure the safety of your child but, in reality, it can be sometimes be more difficult. For example, because my child’s school is a religious affiliation, Section 504 might not apply unless the school receives federal funding (directly or indirectly). If your child’s school is private but not religious, Section 504 likely applies as it would in a public school but it might require you to do some research. In a public school, they are very used to establishing and enforcing to student’s 504 plan, no matter what the food allergy policy says for the school.
Our school does have a peanut/tree nut policy that was instituted this year when I questioned why a formal policy did not exist. The policy is not a total ban but peanut/tree nut products cannot be brought into the classroom nor can products with a “may contain” or “processed in” statement; nothing homemade and nothing that isn’t individually wrapped/boxed with a label is allowed in the classroom. Even with this policy in place, there have been at least three instances where a potentially unsafe product made it into the classroom. It would seem that parents either do not know about or are dismissive of the policy. Additionally, it is not clear to me how the policy is being enforced – my guess is that there is no standard enforcement and that each teacher does it differently.
I’m meeting with the principal to talk this over. I’m hopeful that the school administration will work with me to provide better education about the policy and develop standard enforcement guidelines for teachers. We’ll see how it goes….
Good luck to you! I know firsthand how stressful it can be but kudos to you – you’re your child’s best advocate!
Thank you for the informative article. My LO is only 9 mon. but it pays to educate early!
I really appreciated the information and perspective, there are so many components of a school day to consider…and then some. My daughter will be 4 next months so this is all very much on my mind.
As a mother of a multiple allergic child and an early years practitioner the idea of grouping all allergic children together is totally objectionable.
I question that its for the benifit of the teacher who is asigned the ‘troublesome task’ of assisting the ‘allergic population’ rather than for the inclusive benifits for the individual child.
I question the idea of ‘safety’ in this practice, as the multiple food allergy list would be extensive. So the same food safety rules while eating food would be the same in this group as in a standard early years class.
As a Parent who has any health requirement or disability, you have to be aware of such a slippery slope this exclusion is, and the impact it may have on the percived safety of the children concerned.
Each class teacher and assistants goal should be to met the needs of all children as a whole in the class. What message is this to the allergic child, that for food allergies, only exclusion from non allergic children is the way forward?
We as parents must ask ourselves is this exclusion? and is it real safety? is it for the childs welfare or the benifit of the teachers ?
Sarah, we take a pragmatic view of food allergies in the school; our goal is the protection of the maximum number of children from anaphylaxis. While we would prefer *no* food be allowed in the classroom, we understand that’s not present day reality. We also understand full well that teachers are being stretched in terms of classroom size and that many schools are cutting back on the services of school nurses and lunch-room aides.
Given the realities of today, we are grateful when there is at least one teacher in each grade that has been well-trained in the use of an auto-injector, understands the special needs of food allergic children, and is especially vigilant when it comes to the consumption of snacks and their potential dangers.
Would we prefer that schools have enough staff and training so that children with food allergies do not need to be aggregated? Yes! But knowing the capacity of our schools to deal with these challenges, we have opted to present the approach we feel provides children maximal protection under the circumstances.
Food being removed completely from the classroom is becoming a more normal accommodation as children with severe food allergies are protected under 504 plans as qualifying under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). An affordable and reasonable option is the class eats snack at tables and chairs in the hallway and any crafts involving food is also done in the hallway. All food is stored in a large closed plastic container (giant tupperware) while in the classroom. This is what has been done at several schools in our area.
This is an interesting idea but it essentially moves the problem from a contained area (the classroom) to a high traffic area (the hallway.) All the other strategies remain in play as there is an even greater opportunity for cross-contamination with other students.
I agree it’s not ideal but it is the option chosen by the teacher for my daughter’s kindergarten class and is also in place in other schools in our area. The food needed to be removed from the classroom because the teacher didn’t want to monitor food consumed in the classroom which contained allergens even though the classroom was supposed to be peanut free/nut free – as you can imagine contact reactions were a regular occurence- fortunately none became anaphylactic. Once the food was removed from the classroom and allergen consumption kept separate and hand washing by all students (done only after eating because the teacher refuses because it takes ten extra minutes). The cafeteria would be ideal and appropriate because cross contamination can occur in high traffic areas such as a hallway. The cafeteria is available but the teacher is unwilling to have the snack in the cafeteria because she doesn’t want to walk down the hallway, always referencing time. I feel relieved that my daughter’s reactions are decreasing now.
I couldn’t agree more- I’m not supportive of grouping all allergic kids together in classrooms- this sounds like a miniature concentration camp for “the different kids”. Labeling by disability is discrimination and isolates children. Our goal is to educate and create safe practices and environments at school while establishing an all inclusive curriculum and culture. Everything else in the article is very helpful. Thank you for the ideas for establishing safer educational environments.
Our daughter’s school aggregated food allergic children together in the earlier grades and we were grateful that she was the benefactor of the extra vigilance. There was no stigma whatsoever associated with being in the class as the children never made the connection.
On a personal note, I am as guilty of the use of hyperbole as anyone – but there is absolutely no reason to invoke images of concentration camps in this forum. It diminishes the experiences of the people who were actually interned in them.
Yes, I see your point, my sincere apologies for the comparison.
I don’t see how grouping the “allergic” kids would work especially if they have different academic needs. My daughter is gifted and nut allergic. Her problem is the solution for wheat allergic kids (they often use nut flours). These kids wouldn’t be able to eat anything so many foods would have to be banned.
Why do you assume most wheat allergic children use nut flours? We use rice flour as do most others we know.
But my daughter is allergic to things NO ONE IN THIS WORLD is allergic to. She has 15 families to avoid. There is no way anyone in her class can avoid them all. I barely can!
How do I keep her safe? The ones I worry most about are citrus fruits and tomatoes. The rest she reacts “minimally” to. (But her teachers won’t think so when she goes nutso in the classroom unable to listen or follow any sort of direction.) The first ones she’ll throw up and get diarhea and her blood pressure goes down way too low. Recovery takes a few days. But she’ll also get a virus at the same time, since it compromises her immunity.
Do I really want her in school? Do I believe the universe is safe for my child? That is the question, isn’t it?
Wow, so what do you do? My daughter has all the citrus as well, adding peanut, latex, soybean, broccoli and cauliflower so far. Seems we are always adding something new and I can’t anticipate what it will be. She has much of the same reactions with the vomiting, if we are lucky enough, then diarrhea, hives and difficulty breathing. It is a scary thing to deal with and with her going to kindergarten in July, I am already freaking out…
I disagree with total bans. My ‘anaphylaxis to dairy’ daughter never had a ban. Dairy is a whole food group, no school will eliminate it, yet she’s just as allergic to dairy, as others are to nuts etc. Dairy is much more messy and more pervasive than many other allergens, and the risk of cross contamination is very very high. We took precautions, and she washed her hands before eating, and we asked for no ‘Cheesie’ type food in the classroom, but that was all we got. My daughter learned to co-exist with her allergy in a safe school setting, which prepared her for the real world which is filled with dairy. Now she comfortably sits in a movie theatre surrounded by hot buttered popcorn, goes to birthday parties at pizza restaurants and ice cream parlors, and is a well adjusted girl, who’s included, and not socially isolated. She never had to use an epipen at school, but Benadryl a couple times for hives from books, that could have easily been contaminated being brought home from the library.
Think about this, if all allergic foods were banned, what would the children eat? Learn to reduce the risk, but not ban the food.
Hi Maureen: I 100% agree with you! I too have a child with a fairly severe milk allergy. And you are right, milk is EVERYWHERE and cross contamination is super easy due to it’s messiness. My son has been fine at school. All we ask is for the class to wash their hands after lunch and snack. I often provide a whole class snack at holiday parties so their is at least one thing he can have. We are BYOF at birthday parties filled with pizza and ice cream cake. My husband and I feel the same way–our son has to live in the real world and learn from the start that he has to be smart and responsible when it comes to food. Thanks for your post.
(I’m a different Suzy :-p)
I agree! This article should address hand-washing. Since we put it into my anaphylactic-dairy-boy’s 504, he has not had a contact reaction at school.
I found out my now 3 y/o was allergic to peanuts because her older sister kissed her after eating a peanutbutter sandwich when she was 4 months old… Her eye swole shut and she began to have trouble breathing. My first response was to ice down her face… because none of us have food allergies but when I realized she was having trouble breathing I grabbed the Benadryl. As soon as the Benadryl touched her mouth she vomited and then she became lethargic. Come to find out she was also allergic to the Benadryl… since then we have had 2 blood tests. and 2 skin test. She has outgrown her egg allergy. when I enrolled her into a day care last summer, I became an advocate for her and all the children with allergies. They started with making the classroom peanut free, and now The day care is now a peanut free school. but it took some time.
She will be in pre-k this coming fall at a public school, and I am so glad I ran into your website. It also helps that her older sister will be there with her. Today has been filled with blessing for me and my kids. and finding you guys has been the icing on the cake… Thank the Lord…
I don’t think the suggestion that the nurse attend all field trips is ever going to be a reality in any school–it sounds nice but not realistic. Luckily, I have been able to attend all field trips so far in K and first grade (there aren’t that many); however in first grade the chaparones were not permitted to ride the bus with the kids as in K.
There is a nurse who accompanies my child on all field trips and we are currently putting a 504 in place so that all you’ve described above is legally binding.
504; if your child attends a public school, they should be on a 504. A 504 is a medical accommodation plan that the key players, including the parents, put together for a student with special medical needs. My children’s food allergies are not life threatening, so they can eat the non-allergenic food the school has to provide for them through the lunch program. The 504 gives you legal rights that you won’t have if you just talk to everybody involved. Remember, you do not always know when a substitute will fill in for a main player, but the 504 can and should address this situation.
In the 2 years that my son has been in his school, they have turned around from being “way behind” in having any food allergy policies, to paving the way for the rest of the school in our district. These are *exactly* the steps that I took to effect change… HOWEVER:
There is one part of this that I disagree with, and have worked hard at reversing: Aggregation of food allergic children by grade.
With an anaphylactic dairy allergy, we found that being in the “nut free class” was problematic for several reasons. The first is that most of my son’s protein comes from nut butters and milks, whereas the nut-allergic child’s protein comes from dairy. The nut-allergic child was not required to forego dairy, because the USDA will not allow dairy-free classrooms (or so my school says). But my son had to forego nuts, greatly reducing his food choices. Possibly even more of an issue was that of my son’s (more severe) allergy being ignored, while the nut allergy was paid attention to, mainly because parents were more educated about nut allergies. They automatically assumed that the nut allergy was the most severe one, and mistook my son’s allergy for lactose intolerance (even though I educated the whole class at Meet The Teacher Night). They would happily send in nut-free foods, but continue to send in dairy-galore. My son has contact reactions, so this was very problematic.
In summation: PLACING DIFFERENT ALLERGIES TOGETHER IS OVERWHELMING, SOMETIMES CONFUSING, AND MAY LEAD TO DANGEROUS MISTAKES BEING MADE.
I think those of us dealing with multiple allergies have to be the most pragmatic. There’s no way any school can ban everything my son is allergic to, so we make do the best that we can. His school is a tiny charter school that is anything but “rigid” and doesn’t even have a nurse. I admit some of the accommodations we’ve agreed to aren’t ideal, but I like the process of inputting his specific plan within the guidelines of the school’s resources. My son is learning to live in an allergen filled world, the school is keeping him safe, and everyone is learning how to consider each others’ needs in the process. It’s the way the real world will be and a great way to avoid making the child more anxious than necessary.
In theory a lot of this list sounds great, but in my district (and most of my state) a school nurse is assigned at 20% time to each school site. How can a nurse that is onsite one day per week be our point person? They certainly won’t be available to attend field trips. My son is allergic to 14 foods, 11 of which are not top 8 and are extremely common foods that kids eat. I’m terrified to send my child to school and can’t even find a preschool that will accept him due to his food allergies. I am not looking forward to kindergarten at all.
We started in April-May of the year prior to get a Section 504 for my child with celiac disease. Thankfully the teachers and nurse were willing to provide the accommodations needed because it took all the way to December and we still did not have a formal Section 504 plan in place, mainly because our daughter had appropriate preschool education and was at or above the K academic standards and even that year referred for gifted testing by the classroom teacher. The Section 504 definition the school was operating under was not the most recent definition but in the end I was more concerned that accommodations started BEFORE my child entered the school building and CONTINUED each day she was in attendance.
K was very stressful and anxiety provoking for us – 5 parties, birthday party celebrations monthly, snack daily, and food used for instructional purposes. We had to personally in-person get to know the room parents, PTA, nurse, and all of the teachers (includes art, music, P.E., library, and computers). This also included the before/after school program staff. We also insisted that the teacher announce to the parents and other students about our child’s disability.
God bless you parents for monitoring and managing an anaphylaxis food allergy. It still doesn’t get easier in 3rd grade getting notified the night before of food in the classroom the next day but at least the number of class parties and other food used in the classroom has decreased from K.
It does help to have an ally on the team. Last year in 2nd grade, the teacher backed us up and the room parents’ activity for the class party was cancelled in favor of a food friendly activity our daughter could participate in and not have to be sent away elsewhere excluded from the party and then not to return until the room could be thoroughly cleaned.
One of the best pieces of advice is to teach your child to self-advocate and to learn the skills they will need as an adult living with the food allergy(ies). This past year in third grade, the teacher and room parent told our child that the food (that was brought in on the spur of the moment)was gluten-free and she could eat it and she did not feel confident enough to tell the teacher, “No,” because she thought she’d get into trouble for talking back. It was an eye opening event for us that we had to sort out with the teacher and our daughter to make sure that safety comes first and that it is important to speak up if there’s a worry about a health safety concern. Our motto is if in doubt, do without.
The other piece of advice is it does not matter the age or grade or developmental maturity of the child. I was confronted by a parent at a K school event that involved a different food for each of the letters of the English alphabet. Rather than go through each of the 26 foods and investigate that they were not cross contaminated let alone did not include the ingredients of wheat, rye, barley, and oats, we brought a selection of gluten-free items that our child could eat in a contained lunch. One of the parents, a retired teacher, confronted me as to why I had to bring the foods separately and when I explained, she made a comment about 5th graders not needing the accommodations but that she could see that a K would need help and then she walked away. I am so thankful that teacher is retired. In reality, advocacy and assurance that the accommodations are being followed extends all the way to the university, especially for those staying in school dorms and using the cafeteria or meal plans on campus.
Secondly, there are sometimes employees on campus or in a school district with anaphylaxis food allergies or celiac disease or on a special diet because of diabetes, etc. and some of these employees can be your ally to help your child get the accommodations needed because they understand the system, may even know one or more of the professionals on the school campus, and know first hand about having a food related disability. When I first found out that my child had celiac disease, another employee (someone I had worked with for years) told me she had the same diagnosis. When I talked about getting a 504 plan in place, another employee (again worked with him for years) told me about his daughter’s 504 plan at a high school for Crohn’s Disease. They are allies for students and faculty/staff in the school district where I work but there are others in the district where my child attends, too. A year after K, the K teacher came by and spoke with my child. Turned out her husband was recently diagnosed with the same diagnosis as my child and she needed to know where to get the grocery store shopping guide. It’s not easy to find an ally but if we let others know of our child’s disability and needs, others may then self-disclose. It’s these school professionals who can help navigate the system. A few years ago, a parent came into the front office of the school where I work and said her child has an anaphylaxis peanut allergy. The secretary, whose daughter has food allergies, spoke right up and advocated with administration for the need for accommodations. Today, all students in the school district where I work who have anaphylaxis food allergies have Section 504 plans in place with monitored accommodations. When one of our administrators was diagnosed with celiac disease and Crohn’s Disease and had to have his large intestine surgically removed, the faculty/staff supported him and he was able to transfer to a less stressful position with same pay under the ADA during the time he was undergoing the two surgeries. These faculty/staff with the hidden disabilities of food related disabilities need allies and they can also be our children’s allies.
We have just learned that our grandson (age 5) is not only allergic to peanut and tree nuts, but also peas, ginger, garlic and mustard. How do you ever detect these things in foods unless they are labeled? Since he’s only 5, he doesn’t eat things with these spices, but who knows as he may want to eat pizza, spaghetti, etc. And peas, who is allergic to peas??