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, andÂ 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.