Tuesday, August 12, 2008

School Daze

My daughter's school registration was today and since we're new to the school this year, old Mom had some butterflies herself. A new school means a new set of challenges for food-allergic families.

I know that many allergic families are petrified when school begins--especially if it's the first time their child has been gone all day, such as in First Grade. I know I felt that way. The thing to do is communicate early and often. For example, our new school sets up meetings with the District Nurse for food-allergic families to discuss their emergency plans. That is a wonderful idea that I think should happen everywhere. Failing that, an individual phone meeting could accomplish the same thing. Be good to your District Nurses--they're one of your best allies!

I've read a lot of comments and gotten several e-mails from moms who have battled with their elementary schools on the issue of food allergy safety and I'm always sorry to hear about those incidences. I've had the same types of struggles and my best advice is to calmly state your case to however many people are necessary, however many times are necessary. For example, I ended up having to contact the superintendent of my former school district in order ensure that my daughter's food allergy would be recognized by all the staff and teachers. I would always start with your child's teacher and/or school principal but if you don't get any help, go to the next level.

My other advice for food-allergic families is to develop a thick skin: you're going to need it! I'm always amazed at the number of food-related activities that one encounters throughout the school year. We can't participate in Market Day, buy Fannie May candies for the school candy sale, eat the "boxed dinners" provided for Back-to-School Night, etc. And just today I heard a mom next to me in line who was joking with the nurse "no my kid doesn't have any allergies--only to textbooks, hah, hah." I'm sure she didn't mean to be offensive, but I thought, "lady, you don't know the half of it."

If you feel that don't have the support you need from your school, try to band together with other allergic families to get your needs met. And please read the FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) website for tips on dealing with schools. It's a wonderful resource -- in the past, I've even directed school staff towards that site and it seems to have really helped educate them.

It's not always easy, but making your school "safe enough" can be done. Hang in there and let me know how it goes.


Unknown said...

Would love some pointers here. My son's new school wants to keep the epi in the nurses office versus in his class room. Needless to say, this is NOT acceptable to me. Anyone been this route before and have any handy facts and figures I can use to convince them to keep it close to my little guy?

Jenny said...

Ok, in Illinois where I live it is a state law that children can carry EpiPens on their person. I would first advise you to look into your local laws.

However, before this became a law last year, I had to have my doctor write a note stating that my daughter, for her health and safety, had to have the EpiPen on her person. He emphasized the seriousness of her allergy and also, at the time, she was diagnosed with asthma. I don't know what your situation is, but having asthma combined with a food allergy is considered very "high risk" for anaphylaxis, which should help your case.

Here's how we handled it: My daughter wore a "fanny pack" with the Epi when she went to gym class or art class. She then turned in her fanny pack to her main teacher, who kept it at her desk.

Some schools want to place the EpiPen in a "locked" cabinet. Do not allow this!! What happens in an emergency and no key is available??

It seems to me that schools ALWAYS want to keep medication in the nurse's office. For most cases, that's preferable--but our situation is different. Just as a child would need to carry an asthma inhaler, our kids need to carry EpiPens.

Another place you can go for help is foodallergy.org or the FAAN web site. They also have good tips on dealing with schools.

Good luck and please let us know what happens. You're not alone--a lot of moms will be dealing with this issue this fall. Stand firm!

ZM said...

FAAN also has a wonderful advocate, who can help you with learning about your legal rights.

+ joanne: my experience is that if I tell them that the Eldest can anaphylax within 30 seconds of eating an allergen, and then I ask (calmly, and with a deliberately naive tone) the staff how long it would take to get to the nurse's office and get the Epi - people usually ask me if they can have two sets.

And they do. We have one that stays in the office, and one that goes wherever the Eldest goes.

It's a ridiculously easy trick, making this one work for you. Nobody wants to set up a situation where the child is forced to wait dangerously long for their medicine. I just point out that I don't think that, medically speaking, it's a safe situation. Once, I was told that they were concerned about children getting into the Epi, and i suggested that the teachers could probably arrange for an easily accessible (to an adult) location that was not accessible to the children.

This, incidentally, is also where oh, I don't know, the adult scissors, the teachers' cell phones, hot coffee mugs, etc are kept. So, it can be done. the key to getting it done, though, is that calm, calm, calm tone of voice. Sound calm and they can't dismiss you. Sound reasonable and LEGALLY they can't dismiss you.

neat, eh?