Back to School with Food Allergies
Backpacks, lunch boxes, new clothes, and shoes…..oh my! It’s that time of year again. When careless summer days fade into schedules and carpools galore. Going back to school is an exciting time for most kids. Young ones are eager to find out whom their teacher will be and whether or not their best friend is in their class. Parents are intent on finding the correct “red folder with 4 prongs” and the least expensive mathematical calculating device. With a new school year, also comes worries. Will I have a friend in my lunch hour? Will I like choir, band, art class?
Back to school with food allergies:
For families with food allergies, getting ready to go back to school is an even more daunting task. These families have to make a yearly trip to the allergist to update their child’s “Health Action Plan” and renew their Epi-Pen or Avi-Q (epinephrine auto injector) prescriptions.
They need to find non-perishable food items to send in their child’s “Snack Box” for the 3x a week in-class birthday celebrations. And there’s the fear…..the agonizing take-your-breath-away worry that those who will be in charge of your child every day will do what is necessary when your child accidentally comes in contact with their allergen…which will happen!
FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education):
According to FARE, researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.9 million children under the age of 18. That’s 1 in 13 children or roughly two in every classroom. Every child will know at least one kid at school that has a food allergy. It is estimated that every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room and about 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis (a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may result in death).
It is my job, as a food allergy parent, to equip my children with the necessary tools to keep them safe and prepare them for allergic reactions. Back to school is coming and there are plenty of things you can do to prepare your food allergic child.
Tips for the School Year:
- Work with your doctor: Refill prescriptions and have your physician fill out FARE’s Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan. This is commonly known as a “Health Action Plan” (http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org) in many districts. This form outlines the steps to take in the event of an allergic reaction. A doctor must sign this form (or a school provided form) in order for teachers, lunch personnel, or any school worker to administer life saving epinephrine.
- Review relevant laws and guidelines: Having a basic understanding of the laws that protect children with food allergies can be very helpful in negotiating a plan for your child.
- Develop a written plan: Make an appointment with your child’s teachers, principal, instructors, and school nurses to discuss accommodations needed for your child’s safety and inclusion, and to review your child’s emergency care plan also known as a 504 plan. Back to school time is a very busy preparation time for school districts—be sure to set up meetings in a timely manner to ensure the first day of school goes smoothly.
- Prepare your child: Work with your child so that he or she understands where to go with questions or if help is needed. Role play with them. Have them come up with scenarios where they will need help and how to ask for it.
As mentioned above a 504 plan is a necessary tool to ensure that your child’s safety and inclusively is taken seriously.
According to the USDA, “when in the licensed physician’s assessment, food allergies may result in severe, life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions, the child’s condition would meet the definition of ‘disability’.” And is thus, covered under the American Disabilities Act (www.ada.gov/).
FARE recommends that parents of children with food allergies create, in collaboration with their school, a written food allergy management plan or 504 Plan, which is available under a federal civil rights law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—which applies to any school that receives federal money (i.e., all public schools and many private schools), and applies to a variety of health conditions, including a life-threatening food allergy. Section 504 allows you to create a plan which is a written management plan outlining how the school will address the individual needs of your child, and allow your child to participate safely and equally alongside his/her peers during all normal facets of the school day.
To begin the 504 process, you need to contact the school’s 504 Coordinator. The 504 plan is set to protect both your child, and those that care for them.
If you experience difficulty with your school concerning a 504 Plan, contact FARE or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Additional tips to help keep your food allergic child safe at school:
- Read ALL food labels, avoid foods without labels, DO NOT share food!
- Hand washing or hand wipes is the best way to remove allergens (hand sanitizer DOES NOT remove food proteins).
- Teach your child how to use an epinephrine auto-injector (discuss readiness to self-carry with your child’s doctor). Also, be sure ALL teachers and personnel that come in contact with your child are trained in administering Epinephrine.
- Review with your child what their body might do if they were to “have a reaction”.
- Teach your child to tell a grownup if they start to have an allergic reaction at school.
- Report any bullying or harassment by staff or students.
- Ask for safe seating in the cafeteria – an allergen free table or seating with friends whom do not consume the allergen.
- Find ways to educate others. Offer to decorate school bulletin boards with food allergy awareness information. Read food allergy awareness books such as “The Peanut Pickle” by Jessica Jacobs, “Steak at Stake” by Desiree DeNourie, or “No thank you, I’m Allergic” by Kristen Seymour.
- Participate in FARE’s Food Allergy Hero’s Walk. Join a team, walk to find a cure, or just donate.
Going back to school can be an exciting, scary, and awesome time. Being prepared and having the right information are tools for success. Food allergies suck, but life can still be amazing with caring people. When you have food allergies, extra precautions are a must and sharing your needs are essential. Kids with food allergies should not be afraid to go back to school! With the help of their parents, children can feel equipped to conquer their school year with bravery and confidence.
About the Author:
Autumn Chefan currently homeschools her 2 daughters. Both daughter’s have several years experience in the public school setting, in addition to attending co-op homeschooling classes in Michigan. Both girls have life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and pine nuts. Autumn is on the planning committee for this year’s 2017 FARE Food Allergy Hero’s Walk in Ann Arbor Michigan on Sunday, September 24th.