Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies at School
by Lisa Musician, RD
How can parents best partner with a school to insure their child’s food allergies are managed safely and successfully?
For anyone sending a child off to school, it can be exciting, worrisome and challenging, especially when your child has a food allergy. Most parents are focused on the educational aspects of their child’s school, full of questions about teacher-student ratios, curriculum quality, academic success measures, and so on. A parent of a child with food allergies, however, needs to consider other critical factors and ask more tough questions when evaluating potential schools for their child to attend.
Every child is entitled to academic excellence with the right to participate fully in all school-related activities in a safe learning environment to foster life-long learning skills. The ultimate goal for a parent with a child of food allergies is to take all possible precautions to prevent an allergic reaction while their child is learning in school.
To help you prepare to insure your child’s food allergies are managed safely and effectively at school, here are a few tips from Lisa Musician, author of Parenting a Positive Reaction – A parent’s guide to help promote safe care at school for your food allergy child.
In the Spring, prior to the next school year - contact the school to schedule a meeting with the nurse or the person your school has delegated to deal with medical issues. School personnel can instruct you on which forms you and your child’s healthcare provider need to complete. Together, you and the nurse or delegate can plan a team meeting with other relevant members of the school personnel and staff to decide who needs a copy of your child’s plan.
Once you decide with the school when the team meeting will take place, review your child’s Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan (Allergy Action Plan) and plan you want to implement for your child (504 Plan, IHP, etc). The Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan is necessary for medical treatment instructions and should be implemented in the event your child experiences an allergic reaction. The American Academy of Pediatrics Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan can be downloaded from FAACT.
Note: An Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan is not a substitute for a team meeting. It is important that you review the strategies and directions contained in the plan with school staff members who may have contact with your child. A team meeting also gives the school staff a chance to ask questions, which helps ensure that everyone understands how to follow the plan’s instructions. For a smoother transition from summer to the first day of school, use the following checklist to help guide you through the process of parenting a positive reaction.
- Schedule a visit with your child’s healthcare provider (the medical person who manages your child’s food allergies) to obtain any letters and medical releases needed for school. You may need to contact the school and ask what forms are necessary to be completed for dispensing medications and allow your child to carry his or her own medication, if appropriate.
- Check your medication supply. Look at the expiration dates to determine how many new prescriptions you will need and bring all medications up-to-date for the new school year. Obtain new prescriptions from the doctor and get them filled close to the start of the school year to extend the expiration date. Epinephrine auto-injectors should be good for 12–15 months. Do not accept anything from the pharmacy less than 12 months for the expiration date.
- Make sure the school has sufficient quantities of your child’s medications on hand to be stored in a convenient location at school and not locked away. Determine where the medication will be stored. There might be multiple places such as the classroom and health room.
- Prepare or update an Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan (Allergy Action Plan) for your child. Attach a picture of your child to the form for easy identification. Use colored paper instead of white (copy the completed form over to brightly colored paper). Be sure it is legible.
- Schedule the initial meeting with the school nurse or principal to review any current food allergy policies and procedures, including what to do in the event of a severe reaction. In other words, start developing a plan for your child.
- Bring all copies of all medical documents related to your child’s food allergies and any other relevant health issues or conditions.
- Bring a letter from your child’s healthcare provider listing their food allergens and recommendations.
- Bring a current picture of your child.
- Bring a list of emergency contact names and phone numbers.
- Decide, based on discussions with your child, whether or not he or she will carry and self-administer the epinephrine auto-injector (this will depend on age, maturity and comfort level).
- Obtain copies of the school medication policies before the meeting.
- Obtain copies of the school’s policy on managing food allergies before the meeting.
Nurse or Delegated Person’s Responsibilities:
Your child’s school may not have a school nurse or the school nurse may be part-time and not at the school every day for the entire school day. Ask who is responsible to perform the duties of the school nurse at your child’s school if there is not a nurse available every day. These responsibilities should include:
- Making available written protocols regarding the student’s IHP or 504 Plan.
- Arranging a team meeting with all school personnel who will have direct contact with the student to review the IHP or 504 Plan and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan (Allergy Action Plan).
- Providing all forms that the student’s parents or guardians and healthcare provider must complete and sign.
Professional development and training for school personnel is essential if they are to be effective in supporting students with life-threatening food allergies and responding to an emergency. It’s most important that the team of individuals delegated to carry out duties usually relegated to a school nurse become familiar with your child’s management plan.
Keep in mind that some of staff members may not understand all the points you share. Don’t assume that because you are in an educational facility that everyone understands what you are saying—even if they don’t ask any questions. Reassure them that much of this information can be difficult to understand the first time through, and encourage them to reach out to you with any concerns or questions, whenever they arise.
About the Author:
Lisa Musician, RD, LDN has over 17 years of experience working with a board-certified allergist and is a member of several national and state organizations. Lisa holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition at Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania. Her dietetic internship was at University of Delaware through a distance program. She holds several certifications of training as a Food Allergy Specialist and speaks professionally to organizations, schools and support groups about the management of food allergies and increasing optimal health. Not only does Lisa have experience managing her own food allergies, she is also the mother of two adult children with multiple food allergies and a history of anaphylaxis. Lisa has presented on food allergies for the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference and at numerous groups of nutrition professionals, nurses and other health care professionals. She is recognized as a food allergy expert and the Founder and President of Food Allergy Dietitian, Inc., where she brings together her professional and personal experience to help those with food allergies avoid their allergen and develop a safe, healthy and balanced diet. She is the author of Parenting a Positive Reaction - a parent’s guide to help promote safe care at school for your food allergy child.