Back to School with Food Allergies
When you’re sending your child to school, managing the challenges and responsibilities of food allergies is a shared duty. Not only are parents accountable for their children’s safety at school, but also school administrators, school nurses, teachers, cafeteria staff and even bus drivers must be actively involved.
Communication and awareness are imperative in making sure that your food-allergic child is going back to school safely. Whether you’re a school nurse, teacher or administrator, the key to being prepared is:
1) Knowing how to recognize symptoms and administer medications quickly.
2) Have a written Food Allergy Action Plan.
3) Know when epinephrine must be immediately available.
As a parent of a food-allergic child, you are the first line of defense against food allergies. When your child begins or goes back to school, it’s imperative that you notify the school of your child’s allergies. Whether your child is attending school for the first time or going to a new school, it is your responsibility as a parent to provide the school administrators and caregivers with the complete information about your child’s food allergies.
Work with the school team to develop a plan that accommodates your child’s needs throughout the school including in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in after-care programs, during school-sponsored activities, and on the school bus. Meet with each of the groups and get to know them. Let them know what expectations you have in sharing the responsibility of caring for your food-allergic child.
Provide a Food Allergy Action Plan with details of written medical documentation, instructions and medications as directed by your child’s doctor or allergist/immunologist.
- Include a photo of your child along with the school’s written form.
- Provide properly labeled medications and replace medications after use or upon expiration.
- Teach your child food allergy self-management to include the following:
- Safe and unsafe foods
- Strategies for avoiding exposure to unsafe foods
- Symptoms of allergic reactions
- How and when to tell an adult they (the child) may be having an allergy-related problem
- How to read food labels (when age appropriate)
School Nurses’ and Administrators’ Responsibilities
The school’s responsibility is to review the health records submitted by parents and physicians and to create an environment that includes food-allergic students in school activities. Identify a core team of, but not limited to, school nurse, teacher, principal, school food service and nutrition manager/director, and counselor to work with you and your child to establish a prevention plan. Changes to the prevention plan to promote food allergy management should be made with core team participation.
Assure that all staff who interact with your child on a regular basis understands food allergy, can recognize symptoms, knows what to do in an emergency, and works with other school staff to eliminate the use of food allergens in the allergic student’s meals, educational tools, arts and crafts projects, or incentives.
Students should not be excluded from field trips and school activities solely based on their food allergy.
Practice the Food Allergy Action Plan before an allergic reaction occurs to assure the efficiency/effectiveness of the plans.
Coordinate with the school nurse to be sure medications are appropriately stored, and be sure that an emergency kit is available that contains a physician’s standing order for epinephrine. In states were regulations permit, medications are kept in an easily accessible secure location central to designated school personnel, not in locked cupboards or drawers.
Students should be allowed to carry their own epinephrine, if age appropriate, after approval from the student’s physician/clinic, parent and school nurse, and allowed by state or local regulations.
Designate school personnel who are properly trained to administer medications in accordance with the State Nursing and Good Samaritan Laws governing the administration of emergency medications.
Be prepared to handle a reaction and ensure that there is a staff member available who is properly trained to administer medications during the school day regardless of time or location.
Review policies/prevention plan with the core team members, parents/guardians, student (age appropriate), and physician after a reaction has occurred.
Work with the district transportation administrator to assure that school bus driver training includes symptom awareness and what to do if a reaction occurs. Recommend that all buses have communication devices in case of an emergency.
Enforce a “no eating” policy on school buses with exceptions made only to accommodate special needs under federal or similar laws, or school district policy.
Discuss field trips with the family of the food-allergic child to decide appropriate strategies for managing the food allergy.
Take threats, bullying and harassment against an allergic child seriously.
Schools must follow federal/state/district laws and regulations regarding sharing medical information about the student. School administrators should be knowledgeable of applicable federal laws including ADA, IDEA, Section 504, and FERPA and any state laws or district policies that apply and be committed to following these laws.
Students too share the responsibility of managing food allergies at school. Your child should clearly understand that they should
- never trade food with others.
- not eat anything with unknown ingredients or known to contain any allergen.
- know how to responsibly manage their food allergies and reactions based on their age and development level.
- notify an adult immediately if they eat something they believe may contain the food to which they are allergic.