Quite often these days I’m asked my opinion on food allergies and how schools handle them. I’m not a doctor, allergist or a nutritionist, but for some reason people think I’m an expert on the subject because I’m a food attorney. Unfortunately for these parents, I’m not, actually far from it.?But this doesn’t stop parents of children with food allergies approaching me pretty much everywhere – at social events, kids’ birthday parties, crawfish boils, etc.
While I’m well-versed in FDA labeling regulations when it comes to allergens and I’ve written on the topic before, I have little experience implementing food allergy policies in schools. However, this being said, I’ve taken an interest in this topic as of late and have spent some of my free time performing some research. Since school has begun for most (or is soon approaching for others), I thought I’d share some tips to help alleviate parents stress of sending their food-allergic child to school.
Meet with school staff
You don’t need to wait until the school year begins to set up meetings, but the key is starting early. Meet with teachers, principals, nurses and cafeteria staff. This ensures that everyone is informed and allows parents to understand how their child’s school manages food allergies. While you’re at the school, ask for a tour of the cafeteria and other places where snacks are consumed.
Create a written plan
Work with your allergist to outline all necessary information on your child’s allergy, including how to prevent accidental exposures and how to recognize and treat symptoms of an allergic reaction. And don’t forget to include your contact information. Provide your child’s teacher and the school nurse with a copy of the plan and ask for a copy to be on file with the school. Everyone who comes in contact with that child throughout the day should have a copy too.
Tape pictures of your child to the classroom wall that includes information on their allergies to alert anyone that comes into the room. You may also want to post one on your child’s desk, which can serve as a secondary reminder during snack time or other celebration where food is served. This is especially important when there is a substitute teacher or another parent that visits the classroom that is unaware of a student’s food allergies and doesn’t have access to the child’s action plan.
Make safe snacks
Pack allergen-free snacks for your child in case someone brings in a treat for the class. Send the snacks to school with a label specifying that they are safe, or leave some with their teacher so your child won’t feel left out during classroom celebrations.
Open and frequent communication
Make sure you regularly speak with your child’s teacher which is critical to keeping your child safe during the school year. In addition to snacks, young children are often introduced to potential food allergens through activities and crafts – sensory tables with grain products like dried pasta, children may be encouraged to build something using empty milk cartons or egg crates, or baking projects may contain an unsafe ingredient. Ask your child’s teacher to reach out to you directly if there’s ever a question about the safety of an activity or snack. Ensuring they have your cell phone number saved in their phone and feel comfortable sending you a quick text message could be imperative to avoiding a dangerous allergic reaction.
Be informed and educate
Not only should a parent be well versed in their child’s food allergy, but it is important to educate your child about their allergies in order to keep them safe when they are not with you. You will not always have control over the food your child encounters, so it is critical to help your child learn to identify safe and unsafe situations independently. Allergy alert bracelets can be a useful tool for helping adults (who may not yet understand a child’s allergies) ensure a child’s safety. You may want to also check out the website for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) which has great back-to-school resources.
Provide access to medications
An emergency supply of medications should always be readily available, including oral antihistamines and an epinephrine autoinjector. Whether it be the food-allergic child or a responsible adult, emergency medication shouldn’t be far away just in case.
Sending your food-allergic child to school doesn’t have to be scary. If you take the proper precautions and encourage constant and open communication with school staff, it will lead to a safe, happy school year for your child. This will give you the peace of mind knowing that your child’s needs are being met.