Schools today are more educated and more proactive about food allergy management than they were in the past, but as a parent, you must still take steps to make sure the environment is safe for your child. Every allergy is different, so there is no guarantee that the school has experience with your child’s specific sensitivities and reactions.
Know the Policy
Unfortunately, there are no federal allergy guidelines for school, so you will need to do a bit of research. Some states and school districts do have guidelines in place, but it’s imperative that you verify that they are being followed correctly at your child’s school.
Meet with the school principal, the school nurse and your child’s teacher. Request any specific policy on allergies in writing, and bring it with you to the meeting. Your goal is to verify that there is a policy in place and that it is properly followed. If there is no policy, your meeting will be an educational one and you must be prepared to develop a policy with the school officials.
Food allergies often fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act, so the school is required by law to work with you and your child to develop a health action plan to address the allergy needs. A workable action plan may include:
- Labeling of all foods, including those supplied for class parties or sold for bake sales and other fundraisers.
- The use of non-food items for rewards and recognition within the classroom and school.
- Avoiding common allergens in art and science supplies in the classroom. For example, no science experiments should use peanut butter, a common allergen.
- For severe allergies, it may be necessary to disallow certain foods in the lunchroom and classroom completely.
- A policy that requires children and teachers to wash their hands upon entering the school. This is vital if a child has a severe reaction just from minor contact with the allergen.
Teach Your Child to Speak Up
You will not be able to stay by your child’s side at all times. Children need to learn to speak up for themselves without feeling ashamed.
Begin by teaching your child how to manage their own allergies. This includes being familiar with all potential allergens, with their epipen or medication, and by providing methods to identify and avoid allergens.
They need to be comfortable with telling others about their allergies and speaking up if they see a dangerous food or situation. For example, if a school party is planned, your child must feel comfortable asking teachers and parent volunteers what the ingredients are in the foods. They must also be comfortable and confident enough to leave the room or refuse a treat if they feel the situation could be dangerous.
Plan for the Worst
Even with the a strong policy in place and helpful staff, an allergic reaction may occur on school grounds. You can help avoid the worst by having an allergy attack plan in place. Provide the classroom teacher and the school office with epipens to use in the event of an attack, and have your child carry an epipen with them at all times. Make sure all adults responsible for your child’s safety are fully versed in the usage of the epipen, along with any other life saving measures that may be necessary in the event of an allergic reaction.
With planning and education, your child can enjoy their school days and receive a full education just like the other kids. Although you can’t plan for every scenario, you can make sure your child is as safe at school as they would be at home.
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