With the recent peanut allergy-related death of a Chicago 7th grader and the also recent enaction of FAAMA, it seems that schools may finally take food allergies more seriously. Still, resistance to using or even keeping epinephrine autoinjectors in schools is prevalent.
See this article from today's Chicago Tribune, an excellent piece that covers the main points that parents are interested in with regard to keeping kids safe at school. I especially appreciated the expert opinions such as that from leading allergist Dr. Scott Sicherer, who pointed out that many reactions that occur at school are from undiagnosed kids. He rightly suggests that having epinephrine autoinjectors stocked at school can save lives.
I can speak to this situation, as my daughter was undiagnosed when she experienced a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction at preschool. Nothing was done for her there and I soon found myself in a nightmare that luckily had a happy ending. It was frankly a miracle my daughter didn't stop breathing--she had every other symptom of anaphylaxis and even lost consciousness during the episode. She was 4 years old at the time.
The current Tribune article doesn't cover preschools. That's an entirely different can of worms that I will address in a future post. However, it does uncover what many parents of food allergic kids have known all along: people are reluctant to use an epinephrine autoinjector even if they witness the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Plus, currently no one will use an autoinjector on your child unless you have the doctor's order. So please have your documentation and orders on file. It's so important.
However, as the Tribune article also reveals, even that's not enough. As parents we must continue to be proactive and involved with our schools. We must monitor situations that are dangerous to allergic kids--and that means any food from a restaurant or a home kitchen. There is never a valid, curriculum-related reason to serve this stuff and yet you'd think banning restaurant food and home-baked cupcakes from a classroom is akin to getting an F on a midterm. I never saw this much food brought to school when I was a student and I don't know why we're seeing it now.
Even with FAAMA, food allergy emergency plans and epinephrine easily accessible, schools won't be safe until people understand what food allergies mean, what cross-contact means and that "peanut-free" doesn't only mean "recipe that doesn't contain peanuts." An understanding of what triggers a reaction can frankly remove any need for medication usage--because reactions won't happen if they are prevented.
The article also sites sobering statistics for those of us sending peanut and tree nut-allergic children off to school each day. What allergies are the most deadly? Peanuts first and tree nuts second. And people wonder why we don't want our kids constantly exposed to food all day long.
If the tragic case of the Chicago 7th grader can have any positive impact, it is to show that half-measures and misunderstandings with regard to food allergies are not only unfortunate and ill-advised, they can be deadly.
Along with the passing of laws, which are just pieces of a larger puzzle, parents need to keep bringing home the fact that food in the classroom needs to be drastically reduced or eliminated unless absolutely necessary--i.e., actually meal times. Lives depend on it.