Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to Keep your Food Allergic Kids Safe in School

This is our story about having a fabulous experience with food allergy safety in our elementary school and how you can too!


#allergy safety, #food allergies, #school with food allergies

We had just moved to a small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Matthew, my peanut allergic son, was starting first grade. Not knowing anyone, I went to the elementary school to drop off our paperwork and asked to speak with the principal. 
 
I explained that we were new in town and that my son had a severe peanut allergy. I wanted to discuss how we could handle it during the school year. Her response was, "We've never had a problem before. It will be fine. "
 
  "Great", I thought. "Our first year in a new school and I'm going to have to fight to keep my son safe!".
 
I didn't say anything right away, I just went home to stew, complain to my husband and formulate a plan. 
 
Fortunately, the very next day the most wonderful thing happened! 

Our school nurse called and told me she had heard about Matthew's allergy. Turns out she had experience as both a pediatric nurse and an ER nurse and took allergies very seriously! I felt so relieved.

Our awesome nurse, we'll call her Mrs. H, jumped right into action. Here are some of the steps that she, along with the aid of the teachers and administrators, took to ensure Matthew's safety.

   1. She designated a peanut free lunch table

   2. She made the classroom peanut free

   3. A "No Food Sharing" policy was instituted among the children

   4. All kids had to wash hands after lunch

   5. She made sure that both herself and the
classroom teacher had Epi on hand at all times

   6. Most importantly, she educated staff. ALL staff.

This is the big one. She didn't just talk to Matthew's teacher or the lunch ladies. She developed a mandatory in-service for every single staff member to attend. So the teachers, administrators, recess aids, and lunch ladies all knew how to avoid a food reaction and also how to administer Epinephrine.

Fortunately, Matthew never needed any Epinephrine. He was able to make it through his entire elementary school career without even one reaction at school.

Sometimes he packed his lunch, sometimes he bought. Our school was not peanut free, and the cafeteria did sell PB&J sandwiches, but the workers were very careful about cross contamination.

I'm eternally thankful to Mrs. H. for the measures she took to keep my son safe.

The only times I still felt uneasy were during school parties and field trips, so my husband or myself were always present during these special times. I would survey the food and decide what my son could eat, and I always made sure I brought one of his favorite "safe" foods to share at the party. 

I was also a bit worried that the peanut free table would make him feel isolated, but the teachers made it seem like a privilege to sit there and so all the kids started telling their Moms " don't pack any peanut butter, I want to sit with Matthew!".

My son is now 13 and starting eighth grade this year. (Oh, and he's taller than me too and very happy about it!)
He's in his third year of middle school and still doing great. He no longer sits at a special table, but he's old enough to keep his eyes and ears open and to know not to take food from anyone. 

Hopefully you will find an advocate at your school like we did. It may be the nurse, a counselor, a teacher or an administrator. If you aren't satisfied with your school's plan for food allergies, you can always insist on a 504.

We have never needed a 504 plan for my son, but some parents love them. A 504 plan is an individualized form for kids with disabilities (yes, severe food allergies fall into this category) which outlines specific guidelines to help kids integrate into school as normally and safely as possible. If you believe you need one of these, contact your school and ask to speak with the 504 coordinator.

If your child is just starting school, and you need some info, or if she is already in school but you are not satisfied that all necessary measures are being taken to keep her safe, here are a few helpful links to get you started:

Tips to get to school safely form Kids With Food Allergies
Intro to 504 plans from FARE
Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Plan from FARE

With some planning and collaboration, you can have the same great school experience that we have had!


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