by Kristin Osborne, Founder of Virginia Food Allergy Advocates
When it comes to managing food allergies at school, it is important to articulate your child’s needs at the earliest opportunity, and with thought and preparation. You are your child's biggest advocate and help engineer the framework of support needed for their success and safety. Through a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, and school administration, students with food allergies can excel in a school environment. Here are several ways to foster communication in a school setting:
1. Be Proactive
Notify the school of your child’s food allergies as soon as possible, preferably before the start of school year. If your child has a 504 plan, it is imperative to have the plan in place as soon as possible. A 504 plan is provided under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and provides "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), by giving your child reasonable accommodations or modifications. It is also helpful to obtain all medical forms at the end the previous school year. This will allow time for summer doctor visits and forms to be completed. Have all prescription medication ready to deliver to the school nurse on or preferably before the first day of school. Learn more about 504 plans by visiting FAACT’s Civil Rights Advocacy Resource Center.
2. Make No Assumption
Keep in mind food allergy management may be a new to a teacher or even school. Do not assume everyone understands the nuances of care, safety, and inclusion. Provide detailed information that will help the teacher and administrator’s gain a better understanding of your child’s needs. Educate the team by offering resource guides from FAACT's website and update the team on changes in safe foods and current best practices. Also, frequent communication is key to the success and safety of your child.
3. Offer a Reminder
Occasionally, it is a good idea to email the teacher and or administrator conveying your appreciation for their continued support. This is also a good time to recap prior discussion regarding food allergy management for class parties and events. For example, a holiday party might require communication a month prior asking what food will be served and to remind everyone of any necessary course of action. This reminder is especially helpful to the team because it allows everyone time to address issues and make changes to plans if necessary.
4. Address Problems When They Happen
We all strive to communicate effectively. However, there will be times when the best plan goes awry and is not executed accordingly. You may be informed of a celebration the day before it takes place. Your child may be offered foods they cannot eat. Initially, as a parent, you may be understandably upset. This significant breakdown in communication should be addressed immediately in writing and with a phone call if needed. Great sentence starters are “I’m concerned about...”, “Help me understand...”, “I’ve noticed...”, “How can I help?” Calmly, address your concerns, and work together to prevent future issues. Depending on the nature of the issue, an in-person meeting with the team may be appropriate. Disagreements managed well may fortify a parent-teacher partnership.
5. Express Gratitude
Great or small success should be acknowledged and celebrated. It is a great feeling when a teacher goes above and beyond to help their student achieve success by providing a safe learning environment. Whether its purchasing safe food, creating inclusive lesson plans, or educating themselves and others on food allergy management, teachers and administrators should know you appreciate their effort. This can be accomplished by simply saying thank you, sending a card, or giving a small token of appreciation.
Success is knowing that everyone on the team is working toward the goal of keeping your child safe. As your child's number one supporter you can help foster safety in a school setting by effective communication with teachers and administrators.
About the Author
Kristin M. Osborne is a trained disability advocate, and food allergy consultant with over thirteen years managing food allergies. As owner of The Prioritized Group, a business that bridges the gap between diagnosis and safe inclusive daily life, and founder of Virginia Food Allergy Advocates, she strives to affect change in the community and in the lives of those living with disabilities including those managing life threatening food allergies and anaphylaxis. She resides in Virginia with her husband and three sons who are allergic to wheat, dairy, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, and shellfish. Kristin can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.