Friday, August 26, 2011

Food Allergies in School: The First Week

School's in session for many of us and it's no secret that food allergies at school can be a major cause of stress for parents, teachers, administrators and the kids themselves. I wish I had a one-size fits all option for everyone, but the fact is, many factors will determine how your school handles food allergies. Sometimes it's the people, sometimes the policies and sometimes it's a little bit of both.

We have just completed our first week of school and I have to confess--after the first partial school day, my oldest (with food allergies) has been home all week with some kind of virus that is luckily improving. So there you go! Never even thought about that happening with all the other allergy-related stuff on my mind. However, the feedback I've gotten so far from teachers and other food allergy parents has been really encouraging.

I spent a lot of time before the "big day" communicating with teachers, staff and other parents about how we would handle food allergies at school. I also had doctor's appointments and prescriptions, forms to fill out and discuss. In previous years, I have been extremely fortunate to work with wonderful teachers who wanted to help our daughter have a great school year. Without fail, they helped institute several safety measures.

However, throughout the entire school, rules about food allergies were often inconsistent and that was frustrating.

That was last year. This year, it's a whole new story because of the new district-wide food allergy policies now in place. Last year, after an Illinois law was passed that gave tax breaks to schools who follow the Illinois state food allergy management guidelines, our district came up with an extensive protocol for dealing with food allergies in a consistent way. 504 Plans and IHPs (Individual Health Plans) are still available for those who need them, but overall there is now a detailed document to refer that illustrates how our district mandates the handling of food allergies.

For example, the school lunchroom must have an allergy-free table and cleaning protocols. Lunchroom supervisors are advised of the allergic kids and their right to sit at this table (if they desire) along with one or two friends. This sounds easy, but if these measures are not spelled out and implemented, it can create chaos for the allergic kids in the lunchroom (as well as the staff.)

In addition, classroom procedures regarding handwashing and eating are being implemented that will help protect allergic kids (and probably eliminate a few colds or flu in the process.)

Even with good district policies on food allergies, parents still need to speak up about concerns and if possible, offer a solution that works. It's always good to become a resource to the teachers and the school, whether it's helping out with parties or suggesting simple and workable ways to maintain a safe classroom. Recognize that teachers have a lot to deal with and offer to help them in any way you can. If they do implement food allergy safety policies, always say thank you.

Not every school throughout the country has implemented state guidelines on the issue of food allergies, so please write to your state reps if you want this in place in your state. That's how we got it in Illinois. Support groups like MOCHA as well as FAAN helped with letter-writing/calling. Bloggers (including me) urged readers to write to their reps and explain the positive difference that food allergy guidelines would make at school.

It takes time and effort. It might even give you a few gray hairs along the way. But just knowing that there is a well thought-out policy being followed is really reassuring.

No risk can ever be eliminated entirely and no parent expects that. Simple precautions have been proven to work and I'm very grateful that our school and teachers have become our partners with this.

Here's to a happy school year to everyone!

For more info on helping your school to become safer, please see this recent back-to-school post.


Andrea said...

I like that the child has the right to sit at the peanut free table but it is not manditory. My son sits on the end of the table and everyone in his class knows of his allergy. I too have to review my schools policy before the first day of school. Thanks for this article. I found this link from FB.

Hollie Joy In The Morning said...

Happy Back to School! I'm right in the midst of the meetings with nurse and teaacher, so far, so good, but we're in a new school and a new district, so it makes this year more stressful for Mama=)
Great article~