Food allergies at school…what to do?

Hello my friends! Is it really August already? First, I am going to apologize, again, for being negligent in posting. But since moving to California my time has been consumed with getting my children adjusted by filling their days with play dates, camps, and trips to the beach and pool. It’s been exhausting, I must admit, but it was my promise to them and myself that my job and focus was to be there for them all summer. I’ve had to do some final work on my next book, but other than that I’ve held true to my promise by just being 100 percent there for them.

I’m slowly getting around to returning emails and comments on this blog, and one recent comment on Food Allergy Mama in particular struck a chord with me…it’s a bit long so bear with me:

Whlie (sic) i am aware of allergies, the concept, that i am struggling with is the demand of a preschool child to no longer eat peanuts, tree nuts granola bars, PB and J whole grain breads (made on equipment that also manufactures nuts). We received a note in our childs lunch box this week stating that there is a child in his class that has a peanut (severe) allergy, the only item left in his snack box for him to eat was his juice box). Why does the 95% of the class get penalized for not being allowed to eat their ‘normal’ snack and be straddled to ensure the parents purchase the correct items that are allowable for this one student. Why would not the parent of the child supply a list of those items allowed for the remainder of the class to eat. Dictating what children eat at snack is not easy, and for a new to class stranger to have such demands is absurd. WE have purchased our childs snacks for a two week period and have limited funds to do so, to now purchase nut free items will cost more and we will not be compensated for this extra burden…..How is this right? one rules the majority, i did not sign up for a dictatorship.

our child has allergies to cats, and breathing is limited when they are around them, is it right that we demand that all others in class remove the cats from their home so as to not let the dander be brought to school on the clothing, but hey it is limiting this childs ability to learn by not being able to breath easily……………

this craziness has to stop,

I re-posted this comment only because it is the sentiment that WE ALL have faced in one form or another over the years from other parents about snack polices or food policies in school. Every time I read or hear about a non FA parent get upset about classroom policy and food allergies, I have to take a step back and try to see it from their perspective. What are they are truly angry about? Inconvenience? Lack of control? The right to serve what they want, when they want, to their children’s class? Perhaps. I think more times than not, however, non -FA parents just want to make sure their children are happy, well fed and well nourished at school. I totally get that. And I want the exact same thing, but more than anything I just want my son with a life-threatening food allergy to stay alive. I don’t want him to facet the physical, emotional and social trauma of going into anaphylactic shock in front of his classmates. And I also don’t want his classmates to ever have to witness him gasping for his breath and life. I don’t want ANY child with food allergies, whether he is a 3-year-old attending preschool for the first time, or my soon to be 5th grade son going to a new school, to  feel excluded, different, or anxious in his classroom.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth mentioning again; classrooms ARE NOT secondary lunchrooms. They are a child’s safe haven, a place to learn and socialize in an inclusive, positive environment. I’ve never advocated for food bans, especially in school lunchrooms. My son also has a severe dairy allergy, and I would never expect any school to ban milk, or cheese from children’s lunches. John knows it is HIS responsibility in the lunchroom to eat at a peanut free table and to wash his hands and not share food. However, the gray area lies within the classroom. Schools should consider more food free celebrations, and snacks in the classrooms should be free of potentially deadly allergens. To the reader who posted the comment above, and to any other mom or dad who is annoyed at possibly having to buy certain snacks for the classroom only, I would hope they could try for just a moment to consider the food allergic child, and that no granola bar or cupcake is worth losing a child over. Ever.

When I read the above blog comment, it saddened me that we can’t all just come together and put these children’s lives first, and think about what’s best for them, not what’s best and more convenient for parents. We need to think more logically and compassionately about the issue of food allergies in schools. I respect and value the opinions of non FA parents who wish to fight these types of changes in schools, but I hope that they can respect our food allergic children’s lives and well-being too. Change isn’t easy, but it is possible to do with everyone’s support from the top down, as long as the right information is put out, and more people are educated that food allergies are not a choice or a dietary fad.

In the meantime, prepare yourself in the new school year by scheduling a meeting with your child’s new teacher, principal and school nurse NOW to write a 504 Plan detailing accommodations in your child’s classroom (this is your legal right, don’t accept a “no, we don’t do that here” because it’s against the law to say such a thing). I’m in the same boat as many of you again, facing new food allergy policy issues in our new district. My previous school district in Illinois developed what’s been called the “Gold Standard” of food allergy policy. Below is a link to everything you and your school district administration will need to get the ball rolling; sample classroom letters, 504 Plans, downloads, etc. No need to re-invent the wheel, and it is great to have when your school tells you ” we don’t have the funding or manpower to develop such a policy”. Tell them it’s already been done for them, they just need to enforce it. And remind them that this policy was drafted with the careful consideration of not only food allergy parents and doctors, but non food allergy parents and lawmakers. Here it is:

Good luck everyone, stay focused and positive and keep me posted on how your school year is going.