The ABCs of Food Allergies in the Classroom
Take these 6 steps to keep a child with food allergies safe at school
When Atlanta mom Heather Miller says goodbye to her 6-year-old son Heath each day, she worries. The little boy has a severe peanut allergy, so Miller has worked diligently on a plan to keep him safe at school.
“Eating one one-thousandth of a peanut could kill him,” Miller says. And it’s not just eating peanuts. If another child snacks on, for example, a peanut butter sandwich, then touches a desk or computer, then Heath touches the surface and touches his face, his eyes will swell severely. “He looks like somebody punched him in both eyes,” Miller says.
Heath is among the four to six percent of U.S. kids who have a food allergy, a number that is growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The foods kids are most likely to be allergic to include: peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and others), wheat, milk and eggs, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Related: Peanut Butter for Infants?
Parents of children with food allergies can work proactively to prevent their child from having an allergic reaction school. “Advance planning and preparation are key to protecting students with food allergies,” says Scott Riccio, senior vice president of education and advocacy for nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Here are six steps to keep a child with a food allergy safe at school.
1. Plan with a pediatrician. Before the school year begins, set up an appointment with your child’s regular doctor to discuss her food allergy, Riccio says. Have the doctor fill out and sign FARE’s Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan, which includes instructions for what to do in case of an allergic reaction. Place a photo of your child on the plan, and file it with the school.
2. Meet with school staff. “Communication with teachers, administrators, school nurses and others is extremely important because they all have a hand in keeping a child safe,” Riccio says. When Miller met with her son’s teacher and other school staff, she showed them photos of her son’s reaction from touching peanut residue to make clear the severity of his allergy.
3. Get the school to create a plan. Work with your child’s school to put in place a 504 Plan, a written list of actions the school will take to make the school environment safe. Kids With Food Allergies, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, offers sample 504 plans. Steps could include creating a nut-free zone in the cafeteria, banning nut products in the classroom and having a teacher or aide wipe down the student’s desk each morning. Miller hopes to get a 504 plan put in place at her son’s school.
4. Spell it out. Though Miller has gone out of her way to let everyone at school — including the teacher, aides and classmates — know about her son’s allergy, she also builds written reminders into his day. For example she has sewn an allergy alert patch onto his backpack. And, at lunchtime, he must use a placemat that sports a peanut allergy warning.
5. Enlist your child. Every day, Miller talks with her son to remind him not to share any food, accept any snacks from anyone — no matter what they say — or eat anything that has fallen on the floor. “My son is extremely well-trained,” Miller says.
6. Get a medical alert bracelet. It’s surprising to Miller how many kids with food allergies don’t wear medical alert bracelets. Her son has worn one since he was 2. To make it a little more fun, she bought one with different color bands, made of rubber, which can be swapped out to match outfits. “He knows what it is, and he doesn’t take it off,” Miller says.
Miller’s son has never eaten peanuts and has never had to use the EpiPen prescribed for him and stored in a file cabinet in the school nurse’s office in case he has an anaphylactic reaction. But during the school day, she worries. “I have the school set on a different ring tone,” she says. “When they call, they always say, ‘This is the school, and it’s not an emergency.’”
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