Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food Allergies and School: Back-to-School Checklist

Back- to-school time is exciting but for the parent dealing with food allergies, elementary school or any new school can be scary to contemplate. After all, you'll be dropping your child off at school with the knowledge that they will be around food and situations that may pose risks. I've found that early communication and check-ins throughout the year help to minimize those risks and situations.

If you keep open communication with the school and stay on top of things like parties, you will be one step closer to ensuring a safe and enjoyable school year for you, your child, the teacher and everyone in the class.

Late summer is a good time to get started -- for those of you who begin school in mid-August, you'll obviously want to get in touch sometime in July. If your school office is currently closed, try setting up meetings via e-mail for later in the summer. The important thing is to make contact early so that you can iron out details before the first day of school.

Here are a few things to do well before school begins:

•Schedule any doctor's appointments and have your allergist complete important paperwork such as Food Allergy Action Plans, notes and other medical documents that you need for the school nurse (such as an Individual Health Plan (IHP) or a 504 Plan. Make sure to include recent photo of your child (such as a school portrait) that can be glued/taped onto their emergency plan. FARE has Food Allergy Emergency Action Plans on their web site. Click this link and scroll down: you'll find many school resources here.

•Schedule a meeting with the principal and district nurse to take place before school begins. Many schools offer these meetings for parents to discuss everything at one time. This meeting would also be a time to discuss things like peanut-free tables or restricting certain foods in the classroom. You will usually need a doctor's note to back this up attesting to the severity of your child's allergies, so be ready with any documentation about reactions or allergy tests.

• Review your current epinephrine auto injector prescriptions and renew them if necessary. Have at least TWO auto injectors for school--one for the health office and one for your child's classroom.

•Make sure your child has a Medical ID bracelet (or other medical ID jewelry)such as you'll find at MedicAlert (www.medicalert.org) or Allermates. If your child feels fashionable, her or she will be more excited about wearing this important item.

•Stock up on lunch gear for all those packed lunches you'll be making. I love all of the eco-friendly (and cost-saving) reusable lunch container choices out there right now. The "bento style" lunch containers look cool for kids plus they keep your costs down--no more buying disposable bags. Check Target, Whole Foods and online at places like Lunch Bots.

13 comments:

ccmommy said...

Thank you for this blog post. I am sending my 5 year old to Kindergarten this fall and I am so overwhelmed by all of it. Our school says that the Epipens must stay locked in the nurses office at all times. They won't allow medicine on him or in the classroom. How do I handle this?

Jenny said...

Hi, Many parents are told this. This is not an option that is medically viable (what if someone can't unlock the office and/or location where the Epi is kept) and precious minutes could go by before your child gets the shot? Allergists agree that EpiPens are only useful if kept near the child with the allergy at all times. So my first call would be to your allergist asking for a note explaining why the EpiPen is needed in your child's classroom and then with him at all times when he is in school. A note like this was sufficient for us to have this accommodation made for our child. In fact, the teacher kept the EpiPen and then my daughter carried it from room to room (with a teacher's supervision). It was so important that this happened and so not a big deal. If you encounter more resistance I would speak to the principal, school superintendent, etc. whoever makes the decisions and explain that this is medically necessary. Also www.foodallergy.org has some great tips for dealing with problematic schools as well. If you meet with too much resistance and your child's allergy qualifies them for a 504 Plan, that may be another option. Please search key words "504 Plan" in this blog for more info and links. And good luck!

ccmommy said...

Thanks for the information. I know that their policy is that the medication has to be locked up so I'm guessing I will hit some resistance on keeping it near him. We just changed allergists so when we meet with him I will have to ask him about the note.

Jenny said...

Do you know the law for carrying medication in your state? In Illinois a few years ago, they passed a law allowing kids to carry EpiPens, inhalers, etc. on their person at school. I'm sorry for your stress w/this, believe me, I've been there, and please keep us posted!

April said...

I'm curious for opinions on this situation..I talked to my son's soon to be preschool teacher (who's daughter is actually peanut allergic) and I get the impression she pretty much thinks I am an over reactive parent. I talked with her about precautions to take with my son. For example, nothing with "may contain" or "made in a facility" etc. He will bring his own snack (to which she replied hesitantly with rolling eyes). I mentioned no bird seed b/c he is also to stay away from sunflower seeds and other seeds to which she was shocked by. She says she is flexible and I believe that she will be but she kept mentioning that at some point I "have to let go" (which I don't understand...I mean am I not letting him go just b/c I take precautions to keep him safe?).....I told her any time they have a birthday party, Halloween party etc to just let me know in advance so I can provide him with his own safe treat and any time they do a "sensory" project to let me know so I can provide ideas for alternatives to bird seed etc.....

I just needed to get this out and see how to handle her :)

Jenny said...

Hi April,

Thanks for writing. You have not made any unreasonable requests. Your child's preschool teacher is being totally unacceptable, in my opinion. Preschool is not the time to completely "let go" for any child and your child does not lose their serious food allergies the minute they walk across the threshold of the preschool. The "letting go" comment, from that perspective, is ridiculous and intended to make you "back off" so this teacher doesn't have to take on your concerns.

Let's face it, it's not like you're sending your child to college or even middle school! At the preschool age, kids need a lot of help managing their allergies and that includes teachers' help, big time.

This teacher's attitude troubles me. I would not feel comfortable leaving my preschooler with someone who is hostile to your food allergy management requirements--yours are pretty basic. If she is eye-rolling you to your face, will your child be safe when you are not there?

I don't know what your school situation is, but can you speak to the preschool director? If you don't have a good gut feeling about this person, I would try another school. Your child needs a positive experience and a safe environment. There is nothing over-reactive about that.

Sorry you are having this issue--will you keep us posted?

Best, Jenny

April said...

I will keep you updated...I have talked to the office staff/director and they seem to think that my mind should be at ease b/c the teacher's daughter has peanut allergies. Never mind the fact that the kid is now 18 and they do not monitor her food intake....they go out to eat and she gets whatever she wants, etc. The teacher told me that if he has a reaction I should be ok with that b/c I know what to do now....I was so NOT okay with that comment....

Jenny said...

April, Glad you updated us. Now I'm getting it. The teacher's child may have not had a serious peanut allergy--these were less common years ago. If he did, she may have not taken a cautious approach. It is not OK that you should have to accept her disrespectful and lax approach. It could be harmful to your child. Clearly, the directors are not understanding the nuances of caring for a food-allergic child the way you are. Based on how long she has been caring for a child with peanut allergies, the teacher's attitude doesn't appear likely to change--and the "letting go" comment you referred to before seems more appropriate in reference to her 18-year-old, not your preschool-aged child. Any other preschool options out there for you? You can of course speak to them again, but it seems based on what you're sharing her is that they think this teacher has the right approach. This is worrying me. Can you present medical forms and a doctor's note to the school as additional medical evidence of the seriousness of your child's allergy? This may help. Otherwise, I would look around at other schools. I had to change preschools for my own daughter's safety so I know this is not easy. Of course, keep us updated and good luck!

April said...

I have repeatedly told them how severe his reaction is and I feel like it's beating a dead horse....He ate 1 cashew and within 10 minutes couldn't talk, was slobbering, throat was swelling shut, coughing and continued to do so after the epi...then once we got to the hospital he broke out into hives after more benadryl....and not like regular hives just lines of huge mounds under his skin around his eyes, up his neck etc.....the severity of this reaction is why I will fight for his protection no matter what people think....they can think I'm crazy and ready for the looney bin but if it will keep him safe they can think that all they want! :) I mean why is it so wrong/odd that I would want to keep that from happening again...OK I'm done with the rant :).....Actual preschools are few and far between in our town but I am going to contact a few others in the area and see....The only reason he even needs to go to a preschool is for the social aspect of it......and frankly (like I told his pedi) that is not worth him getting sick...

Hodgepodgemom said...

This is a great checklist for homeschoolers with allergies too! I need to order new allergy alert bracelets since my youngest two are growing. They will have new teachers at church and there will be others in our social circles I need to make aware, educate on their allergies and epipens. All great reminders! Thank you.

The Ives Lives said...

thanks for this post! My 5 year old son is going to kindergarten this year...I've preschooled him at home so this is his first time away from me. He has a severe peanut allergy, and I'm pretty much out of my mind stressed about it. His school told me he'll be the only student in the school with a peanut allergy (hard to believe?!) and so they haven't had to deal with this situation yet. I asked them if they were a peanut-free faciltiy and they told me that was against the law to tell parents they can't send their kids to school with PB (NOT TRUE!) so I'm quite frustrated. Also the bus driver told me that he would not use an epi, only call 911 if there was an emergency on the bus. So I will be driving my son to school each day. Really nervous about how this will work out but planning to meet with the principal, nurse and teacher over the next few weeks. Really hoping for understanding and that they'll take this seriously!

LuLu said...

This will be the 3rd year my FA son has gone to school. I am appalled at what schools are telling parents. My son is allowed to inject himself (I highly doubt he could do this to himself when having a reaction), he is allowed to carry his epi with him at all times( you have to keep close eye on when they go to different classrooms like science lab where they often use food) the bus drivers are trained to use pens ( they never enforce the no eating policy on the bus and he often sits in crumbs) and his is never locked up ( I made a huge point about this because seconds count when he's having a reaction or for any child who is having a reaction...EPIs save LIFES!) On hot days you have to remember their epi is subjected to heat it is not supposed to. One of my biggest things with school is all the times they are "rewarded" with food, how food is connected to more things than you would ever think, art supplies potentially have peanut or egg ingredients among others allergens, make sure that not ONLY the nurse can give the epi, ask for their policy on Anaphylaxis (more often than not they have one or the state does for download that you can put in his/her file, be that parent that reminds the teacher and staff weekly to wash their hands especially if your school is STILL serving peanuts. Most importantly, watch everything like a hawk and always remind people that you are doing this because their life counts on it. You are your child's best advocate...speak up and NEVER allow school to separate your child because of food. It is their right to participate in ALL activities as their peers do.

Unknown said...

This message is for April- my daughter also has a severe cashew/ pistachio allergy and I woul absolutely not let her go to that preschool. I was lucky to find a local one that is nut free and the co-director takes these things extremely seriously. It is amazing and I feel my daughter is very safe in their hands. But I still provide all of her food, including birthday treats. When your small child has a food allergy there is no such thing as "letting go!"