Finally, a Dairy Free Classroom too….

Yep, you read that right, John’s classroom is Nut AND Dairy Free. He’s in the third grade now, and historically speaking the third grade teachers allowed birthday treats, food, etc. in the classroom. Frustrated by the constant topic of food in the class, and the inability to get our school to have a district-wide policy of food- free Birthday Celebrations, I decided my son’s Section 504 Plan needed to be beefed up.

At the end of last school year I had my son’s annual IEP review meeting, and I requested his classroom be Dairy Free as well as Nut Free. Honestly, I was just tired of everyone thinking that a peanut-related reaction was the only one that was life-threatening. Everyone gets (or at least most everyone) that peanut allergies are dangerous. But no one talks about the other common allergens; wheat, soy, dairy, egg, fish, shellfish, and that they, too, can produce life-threatening reactions. That’s why they are called a food allergy.

Some of my son’s most severe, so-scary-you-never-forget type reactions were from dairy products that he inadvertently touched or ingested. So as long as my school insists on food and snacks in the classroom, I insist his classroom and learning environment be free of the food that could cause him a serious reaction. His class should be a safe haven. For the record, the lunchroom is still status quo: John sits at a peanut free table, but the rest of the lunchroom has milk, peanut butter, etc. and I am totally fine with this. I know this is the real world, and John, along with millions of other food allergic children have to find a way to adapt to lunchrooms, restaurants, etc.

I’ll be honest, the first few days of this new Dairy Free Policy threw some people for a loop. I got calls and emails about what was safe and what wasn’t. Some parents were worried that their children only eat certain foods and they wouldn’t be able to find a snack they would eat. In fact, my other son (who is not food allergic) is in a Dairy Free Classroom too because of another food allergic child and there was confusion there too. I get it; change is hard and people generally don’t associate dairy as being dangerous. Yogurts, Cheddar Goldfish, and  Cheeze Its all leave milk residue on fingers, which could potentially touch desk tops doorknobs, pencil sharpeners, you name it. But once parents understood this I think they were much more willing to accept it.

Finally, my school nurse, who has taken great care in helping where she can to educate and keep all the food allergic children in our school safe, decided to give a 15 minute informational presentation on food allergies after all the curriculum nights. This was her idea, and in her own free time. I honestly can’t thank her enough for caring enough to go the extra mile and really helping to not only enforce these safety procedures, but to also educate others. Just this morning she emailed me to ask if I had any questions about John’s safety for an upcoming field trip. She’s amazing, and I am grateful.

It’s been a long road to get to this point. I can still remember back in 2004 when John was starting preschool, and I got the Deer-In-Headlights look after asking if his classroom could be nut free. I didn’t dare ask for it to be dairy and egg free too. I was too scared, thinking no one would comply anyway. And I didn’t want to rock the boat. But, if there’s one thing I have learned after all these years of school, snacks, and birthday treats in the classroom, it’s that you MUST rock the boat, and educate people to get on board with you. I really believe that most of the negative things we read about food allergies is just based on lack of information, or the unwillingness to access it. Call me a Pollyanna, but I really believe we are making great strides in getting the word out, keeping our kids alive and ultimately finding a cure.

50 Responses

  1. Great job Kelly! It’s hard to believe that you, an author, and in your community, would have such a tough history with this. I’m so glad that you have been able to get his class dairy free too, it has made the world of difference for my daughter. I think her pre-school teacher is having a bit of a tough time getting to comfort level with managing her in the class, but I have confidence in her and she is committed to making it safe. I know it will be different and may not get the same for her Kindergarten class next year but I will try my best to keep her safe and educate one person at a time to keep her environment allergen free.

    thank you!

    Maria

    • Thanks so much Maria. Believe me, I’ve had my battles with treats, birthday and otherwise. I really feel like we are becoming an overly “snacked” society. A safe classroom that is all inclusive is all that matters.

  2. :) I’m glad it’s going so well. The anaphalactic allergies have no choice but to be taken seriously, I mean how can you risk a life for something like someones favorite snack? Avoiding foods for other health reasons, makes everyone look at you like you are some sort of psycho freak. That’s me, the psycho freak. Some day this sort of thing will not stress me. Some day food will not be the center of our teachers universe. I just hope it’s sooner than later for the sake of all the kids that avoid certain foods for health reasons.

    It’s been one of those days, 9am email that cookies were going to be the birthday treat in my girls classroom later in the day. Nothing like some notice, on a work day for me no less. I didn’t even get the email until almost 1pm. Stress. She was able to deal though, I guess that comes with age. But seriously, the insensitivity of teachers is quite frustrating, as I know you are well aware.

    • Colette, it’s crazy how many times you are going to get the delayed response phone call about treats in your kids’ classrooms. Enough already!! Our district needs to step it up….

  3. I think that it was so kind of your school nurse to do that on her own free time. Hopefully once the reprocussions of allergen exposures are explained that parents will do the right thing and be considerate of another child’s situation. Nobody chooses this for themselves or their families.
    What I do not understand is why they still have snack time at your school. In our school this ends after kindergarten. There is simply no time for this with all of the material they are required to go over in the school day. I do not remember having snack time in the classroom growing up. If they are going to give a child a break in the school day, how about an activity break of simple stretches to help them get their focus back?
    Just a suggestion…..

  4. Would it be possible for your nurse to share what she presented? I would love to pass it on to my daughter’s school. Thank you for all of your hard work and inspiration!

  5. Wonderful news! We are indeed making progress. Our third grade son is allergic to wheat, dairy, egg, seafood, shellfish and all nuts. Last week, I received a note from the clinic at his school. Without my even asking, they had made his class room free of ALL of these allergens. I was worried initially about how cranky all the parents would be, but their reaction seems to be one of relief. The last thing anyone wanted to do was send in something that would cause a problem. It looks like it will be popsicles and Italian ice for everyone this year!

  6. That is great news!! My oldest son with milk and egg allergies just started Kindergarten. After reading your blogs and doing my research on 504 plans I approached the school about a medical 504, but the principal felt it was not necessary. However the teacher responsible for IEP’s disagreed and felt a medical 504 would be appropriate. Can you believe he is the 1st medical 504 in his elementary school in 13 years!!!
    Then the week school was to begin I got a phone call from his teacher. She asked if I would mind if she just made her classroom have a NO FOOD policy! She didn’t single out food allergies as the cause, just that the school is trying to implement a wellness plan, which is true. She simply sent a note home that stated for birthdays the kids can share small items (pencils, stickers, silly bands, etc.) instead of food. Or they can bring in their favorite book and the teacher will read it to the class. She is the first teacher at the school to implement a policy like this, and I know other teachers are watching to see how it turns out. The principal also asked my permission to share my son’s photo with the entire staff so that everyone in the building is aware of his severe allergies. I feel very fortunate to have such a great school and understanding teachers…now hopefully this will continue each and every year. We still have a long road ahead of us though!!

    • Erin, WOW! First 504 in 13 years!!! Think of this important road you are paving for other food allergic children in your school district. So awesome, and so important. Thank YOU for all you are doing!! xo

  7. Congrats Kelly – it’s a big step and I think will only help to educate others in the class as well. I’m constantly amazed at how understanding kids are – Charlie’s friends who do not have allergies regularly sit at the Peanut Free table with him when they buy hot lunch b/c all hot lunches in our school are PN & TN free! We’ve also been SO fortunate to have amazing teachers (some of whom had the same food allergy challenges with their children or grandchildren) along w/a nurse who’s so wonderful and NEVER makes it feel like a chore to implement a new policy to keep our kids safe (in fact we both chuckled together about how we wanted to stand up and cheer when they banned food for in-school birthday celebrations!). I also hear you on the non-allergic child – I’m actually considering volunteering my son who doesn’t have allergies to be in the PN free class next year for kindergarten as it’s easy for me to comply with that rule! Here’s to a great year for you, John & the rest of your family!

  8. I am new to the allergy world. I run a daycare and have taken a little girl who is allergic to dairy and eggs. I have done some research so that I would be prepared for her. I found this site and I also bought your book. I cannot wait to use it. Everything looks great and it is nice to know it is all safe. I also found a great website http://www.food facts.com that has been very helpful for someone who does not live with this on a daily basis.
    I look forward to reading more on here and finding out new recipes to try.

  9. I am a mother of 3 and my older 2 children do not have any food allergies, but my 3rd who is only 19mos. Old is off the charts allergic to peanuts and I have learned so much in the past few months, that I never new. 6 years ago my oldest went to a preschool that was peanut and tree nut free so if we were on the go and she eat a peanut butter sandwich in the car I would tell the teacher, and she would have her go and wash with soap and water. That was all before I was even educated on food allergies. I wish my school would educate the parents in my school, and teachers about this allergy. My 7 yr. Old daughter came home from school, and she was in tears I asked her what is wrong? She said her teacher was eating peanuts in the class room during working snack time. I said ok? She said some of the dust could have gotten in my hair, and the oil was on her hands so I need to take a shower before I hug my baby brother I don’t want to kill him because the teacher is stupid. I cried, because of so many reasons………

  10. Kelly, Good for you!!! My 9 year old grandson is “milk product” sensitive. yes, even touching milk with his fingers, then rubbing his eye, for example, gives him a bad reaction. He was tested two weeks ago and his allergy is now worse than before, if that’s even possible. He was tested for other food items and now he has sensitivity to shellfish. Wow, what’s next? He’s such a good sport. I have introduced your site to my daughter-in-law. We/she love(s) reading your news. Keep up the good work and thank you for it.

  11. Kelly – Good Job and big kudos to you for the huge step forward you made with getting a classroom “Dairy Free” . I have helped in our elementary to get some new policies in place and have made huge steps as well. Our classrooms are now “nut free” and we don’t have birthday treats at celebration times. I also have a 3rd grader and he is allergic to TREE NUTS. I agree that the more education the better. We will knock out incorrect stigmas with food allergies. Good job – I love your blog. It inspires me and makes me not feel alone in this battle.

  12. Thank you for talking about the dangers of milk allergy. So many people think that it is not as dangerous as a peanut allergy. For some reason they do not equate milk residue with peanut residue. But we know that our children can have life-threatening reactions to both peanut and milk residue.

    I believe that milk, wheat and soy allergies are actually more dangerous because milk, wheat and soy are present in many more everyday foods than peanuts are.

    It is great to get the word out.

  13. Great support from the school nurse!

    I wanted to comment on Erin’s note about a 504. Recently Congress changed the language of the law which now covers “eating” as a major life function that is protected under the law. This now makes children with food allergies eligible for a 504. This is our second year with a 504 Plan and I highly recommend that all parents with a food allergic child insist on one. It’s your right and it offers protections and an opportunity to dialog and brainstorm with school officials.

    • I completely agree with Food Allergy Assistant…a 504 is VERY important to keeping your child’s rights in check at school. The school and staff need to have guidelines to follow…but without that very important documentation, there won’t be a system of checks and balances.

  14. Great news! My son started Kindergarten this year with a new district wide policy of no birthday treats, what a huge relief that we never had to cross that bridge. A shout out to all allergy mom’s: keep it up, we are being heard!

    • Awesome Shannon…can we move to your district too??? Just kidding, but our school district needs to make it a POLICY next…not just leave it up to the grade level teachers. :)

  15. I’m so happy for you and John. That gives much peace of mind. We have a 504 for our child which includes an allergen free classroom as well. I agree with you that it has been difficult getting people to understand that milk can cause life threatening reactions too, and it doesn’t have to be milk, yogurt, butter or cheese. I know you are savvy about these things, but I want to caution others as a parent who’s been there and done that, to let the school/teacher provide the guidance as to suggested snacks (with you telling them in the background), otherwise you could quickly find yourself going on the defense with the other parents who will try to engage you in discussing John’s private medical information and try to negotiate around your son’s personal accommodations. Even though everyone knows about John’s allergies you don’t want to be “the reason” their child can’t eat his favorite snack. Let the school be officially responsible for declaring what is/not safe. Your nurse sounds just wonderful. Congratulations!

    • Kim, all excellent points…right on. This is exactly why I am always encouraging my school to be the lead on this…not just Kelly Rudnicki-being-a-pain-in-the-ass. But they are still slow on the uptake…that’s why I am so grateful to at least have a nurse who “gets” it. Thanks so much for pointing this out!

  16. That is such great news. My daughter with food allergies just started preschool this fall, so your blogs have been VERY helpful to me, as well as reading everyone’s comments. I realize now how pro-active I am going to have to be to ensure that my daughter stays safe. It is one thing to gave a baby/toddler with food allergies who is with you all the time, but when they start going to school and other activities without you, there is a lot more to think about!

    • Thank you so much Deana for your comments. I’d love to hear how the school year, snacks and parties are handled this year. Good luck!! xo

  17. I am a teacher and also the parent of a child with a severe milk allergy. Our school district just went nut-safe, but as you know, that does not include my daughter. I am trying to get our school to have food-free birthday celebrations, but no luck yet. Fortunately, because I work in the same school that my daughter attends I have been able to bring allergy awareness to the staff and faculty. However, when it comes to PTA events (snacks for Jump Rope for Heart, snacks for state testing, etc.) there is still much work to be done there. I am usually her room parent so that I can have input on food for parties. My daughter is now in the fourth grade and just yesterday I sat down with her teacher to discuss the birthday treat issue. The hard part is that this has to be done each year. It really would be so much easier if schools could just adopt a food-free policy, other than lunch of course. Thank you to all those who keep educating the schools out there.

    • Good luck Lisa, thank you SOOO MUCH for trying. You really are paving the way for lots of other parents with food allergic children. Ahhh yes, we’re always the room parents, right? Lol…but seriously, it is the easiest way to stay on top of the food served at parties and to have control over it.

  18. Thank you so much! My son was just diagnosed with egg, soy, peanut and milk allergies. Although they are not life threatening they do cause him a great deal of digestive problems. His most severe allergy is eggs and when I heard this I panicked because he LOVES waffles. I scoured the internet for safe waffle recipes and the first one I made was hideous! Then I found your chocolate chip banana waffle recipe. I cried with joy as he devoured it on the first morning I offered it to him. They are simply delicious and I feel so great knowing that they are a safe food for him. Thank you so much for all that you do for parents and kids with allergies.

  19. FINALLY! Someone else gets that a dairy allergy can be serious! I just found your blog and am so greatful for the recipes and insight. Our school district doesn’t allow birthday treats and have stopped having snack as well so that my daughter can be safe in the classroom. This is district wide so we don’t feel like the “bad people” for disallowing these things. Keep up the good work!

  20. @Erin – you need to demand the section 504 plan. They are required to investigate your request. This is a principal not doing her job.

  21. Kelly, your blog is awesome gives me hope and courage. Thank you for ROCKING the boat. It’s something i’ve never liked doing. When DS was 6 months, we found out he was allergic to dairy and nuts. At first it was a nightmare but it turned into a blessing. We are so much more aware of what is going on with our food and the safety of others with allergies. I have a new found sense of confidence. Folks have given me that “glazed deer in the headlights” or “you must be crazy” look when I stand up for my son. Makes me laugh though, cause I get that they just don’t understand. I use to be like them. so I do my best to explain. My mom has gotten on board and recently discovered your book… she was so excited and can’t wait to try some recipes. We are fortunate to have friends and family supporting us.

  22. Love your blog. It is very inspiring. My son has a severe allergy to milk proteins and milk in any form. I have never had the courage to explore the possibility of a milk free classroom. Thank you for your efforts. I agree, that milk allergies are not respected the way nut allergies are and find it extremely frustrating that the assumption is that the reaction will not be life threatening. I have started a blog myself recently to share what life has been like raising a child with a life threatening allergy.

    Thank you for your leadership on this very important issue.

    • Thanks so much Suzanne! SOOO excited you started a blog to represent all our FA kiddos. How old is your son? I hope your school will recognize how important it is to keep allergens out of our classrooms. Good luck!! xo

  23. Kelly,

    My son is ten now and we have experienced so far three elementary schools, since we have moved with the military. It can certainly be overwhelming at times.

    I would love to get any advice you can offer on getting a blog started and exposed. If you get a chance, check out my blog and I would love any feedback. There is not yet a lot of content, as I only started about a month ago. I have so much to write about though – ten years worth of experience!

    Thanks again.
    Suzanne~

    • Fabulous Suzanne!!! Connect yourself with the list of fellow food allergy mamas on my home page…link up with them and they will probably happy to swap links with you. These women are a bunch of fabulous mamas who are living with the same issues we all face!! Good luck and keep me posted!

  24. Thanks so much for the suggestions! I have started a list of blogs I like and added your blog, of course. : ) Hope you will consider listing mine.

    Love your recipes and ideas. Great to know there is so much support out there.
    Suzanne~

  25. I know rltroubles I had back in 90’s when I handled school related allergy stuff among other things for me and sis they did their best but it was joke as we didnt even have school nurse and their were only 2 phones in building one in office and one by gym doors dlnear office and that was a pay phone. Sis got lucky when got stung by nee cause her teacher reacted quickly enough. Honestly with rise of food allergies even though may extend day I suggest they have it set for everyone to go home for hr or 2 for lunch its imposible in settings as is at time being to keep everyobe safe all the time with fiod allergies in school wetting where food is heavily prevlent. yes birthdays should have some non food related treat but wlll take time for schools to fugure all this out.

  26. In need of help and understanding? How has your son’s school been able to keep dairy and egg products out of the classroom assuming they eat their lunches and snacks in there. Can you pass along some ideas on how your son manages to eat lunch, etc. with dairy kids. My situation is opposite to yours — I am a mom to a dairy kid — they want to take out all dairy and egg products in the classroom for one of his fellow classmates — they eat lunch and snacks in this classroom. The parents have given us food lists telling us what we can make and allow our children to bring to school. I am rattling my head, trying to understand the concept of this request and if there are other possibilities that would seem beneficial to everyone involved. Can you help?

    Thanks a.s.a.p.

  27. Great job on the dairy free classroom. You really vindicated the importance of persistence and education. Which still remain key! Change is tough and without eduction, what is the inspiration for the change?

    Congratulations on a job well done.

  28. First it was second-hand peanut allergies, and now second-hand dairy allergies?? If your damn kid has some freaky food allergy, maybe you should just keep him at HOME.

  29. I am a teacher in a Toddler classroom. I have children 15 months to about 2yrs old. There is a child coming into my class that has a sever milk and soy allergy. He has an epi-pen. I was wondering (an truly not meaning to offend) what do I do? Do I make the classroom dairy free? If I do this, is this helping the other children who eat your yogurt and cheese and drink milk for the calcium they are supposed to get because they are so young? Please do not take offense, I am trying to figure out how to make this work for all my kids. Did anyone ever have their infant or toddler in a day care setting when they had a milk allergy? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much!

  30. @LIz in June did you ever get a reply? years later Im in the same situation & looking to make a dairy free classroom out of a daycare for toddlers that is almost impossible. We provide all food snacks & drinks however I am trying to get the owner of the school to provide the class with dairy nut free peanut free snacks. while i dont anticipate my son eating them it will be a safer environmnet. I am looking for a list of safe snacks to provide them and developing my own.
    Snacksafely.com is a great baseline but includes milk products.

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