One of the most difficult challenges of being a parent of food allergic children is to entrust them to someone else. If they just stayed at home it would be easy but this is neither feasible nor desirable.
They spend more hours at school than at home. Sahil and Jaya eat their snack and lunch among classmates who are eating their allergens around them. In order to ensure their safety I usually meet with the school principal and/or teacher before the start of each school year and numerous times during the year. We discuss how to ensure their safety AND inclusion.
I am reviewing this information again today because I just found out that Jaya’s teacher will be off for a couple of months and there will be a substitute teacher. Her current teacher is very careful so the thought of her not being there is nerve wracking. I will be meeting with the new teacher once they start.
In Ontario, Sabrina’s Law ensures teachers are trained to administer the epi-pen and that each student with an anaphylactic food allergy will have an action plan and extra epi-pen readily available. However, the law is a general one so when preparing recommendations I use this handbook as a guide: http://www.aaia.ca/en/Anaphylaxis_3rd_Edition.pdf
Here is a list of recommendations tailored to Jaya’s allergies (dairy,eggs,peanuts and tree nuts) and current age which I discuss with the teacher(s) and principal:
Avoidance of the allergen is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction. Traces or very small amounts the allergen(s) can cause anaphylactic reactions if ingested. This may even happen if a person touches an allergenic substance and then puts their hand to their mouth or eye.
School staff avoidance strategies:
- Not to provide food as an incentive or reward
- Maintain the no food celebration policy for the school
- Consult parents of food allergic children when planning any activities involving the class/school and food
- Allow parent of food allergic child to accompany his/her class on field trips
- For school sponsored activities/events where food may be provided:
- Parents of food allergic child are to be notified of the event well ahead of time and consulted re: food service providers which can provide safe allergen-free food
- Ensure classroom and shared areas where student may go to learn are carefully cleaned of food using an allergen free cleansing agent approved for school use
- A process should be in place where food scraps/non eaten food products are removed from the classroom after meals and snacks
- Teachers should ensure that arts, craft and science supplies and other learning materials do not contain allergens (e.g. some paints contain egg, some teachers use egg cartons or milk cartons for projects)
- Periodic reminders should be sent home at certain times during year encouraging food free celebrations– for example Halloween, Valentine’s day when students may want to share treats.
- IF possible ask parents not to send in spillable milk products in students’ lunches (eg puddings, yogurt tubes, milk cartons)
- Encourage students to bring water to school (versus juices/milks/soft drinks which all contain sugars, chemicals, food colouring)
Classmates avoidance strategies
- Classmates should wash their hands after eating and ensure food is not left around their mouths
- Stay seated during eating times
- Sharing of food or utensils should not be allowed
- Keep their snacks and food away and separate from the anaphylactic student
- Place a barrier (eg napkin/placemat) between their food items and eating surface
- Carefully dispose of food items after meals/snacks
- Notify an adult (lunchtime supervisor) re: any spills of food (especially milk)
Student’s avoidance strategies
- Wash hands before and after eating her food
- If needed, student can use own safe liquid hand soap
- Eat only foods which are packed by her parents
- Always carry epi-pen (around waist)
- Not eat if s/he does not have epi-pen
- Place a barrier (placemat) between the eating surface and her food
- Never leave food unattended
- Never go off alone if feeling unwell; Inform an adult
- Not be involved in garbage disposal, yard clean-ups or other activities which could bring her in to contact with allergen contaminated items
- Not to drink from water fountain
I hope this helps other parents who are preparing to send their food allergic kids to school.