Okay, we all know I hate food bans, right? So what are some good strategies for keeping allergic kids safe, you ask? Read on.
First, a disclaimer: it’s not that food bans are never a good idea; it’s that they aren’t always the answer. I’d go as far to say they aren’t usually the answer. Often they’re a knee-jerk reaction. People think food allergies, they think food bans and then don’t give allergy prevention another thought. I think they make sense – sometimes. But there are a million other things that should be considered too. If it is decided that food bans are a reasonable thing to do, then they should be a part of a larger food allergy safety plan.
Here are some things we did at my allergy boy’s school to help keep him safe:
- I made sure everyone knew who my allergy boy was. I met with his teachers, I talked to the administration and I talked to the lunch supervisors.
- I made allergy posters for his classroom. Our school has a lot of parent volunteers in the class and I wanted to have allergy information readily available.
- I pulled him out for pizza lunch days. Now I know this isn’t always possible. Our school has pizza lunch once a month (I’ve heard of some schools that do it once a week), and I’m able to pick him up. I just didn’t feel comfortable having him in the lunchroom surrounded by kids eating pizza. For the record, the school offered to order a cheese-free pizza for him and offered to let him eat somewhere else when pizza lunch was on. But in the end, because was able to do it, I just picked him up for pizza lunch and we went out for lunch. Lucky for us, there is a very allergy-friendly restaurant near the school and it was a really nice lunch date for us once a month.
- I made him an allergy placemat. This placemat lives in the lunchroom and gets pulled out every day. All of the lunch supervisors know about it and it has all the information you’d need if there was an emergency. See here to download a copy. I had it printed and laminated at my local copy centre for less than $10.
- I talked to the administration about how the lunch tables are cleaned after lunch. They double checked with caretaking staff to make sure they were being cleaned properly.
- I sent in a bag of allergy-safe treats for my boy’s teacher to keep on hand so that if there were celebrations that involved food, my boy could safely participate. These were in a clearly marked container.
- I popped in at lunch time the first couple of days, and then periodically after that. Again, I know this isn’t possible for all parents, but I was able to do it so I did. It helped maintain good communication between the lunchroom staff and me.
- I pushed for training for staff and parents. As a result, Anaphylaxis Canada comes in once a year for staff training. This year, the school also had Anaphylaxis Canada come in to do training for parents following a school council meeting. Sadly, almost every single parent left before the presentation. Still, I appreciated the efforts by the school and the few parents that stayed behind. Prior to the Anaphylaxis Canada training, anaphylaxis training (which schools are required by law to provide for teachers at least once a year) consisted of someone passing around an autoinjector trainer during a staff meeting.
- When the new autoinjector, Allerject, came on the market, I called Allerject to confirm that they were sending all schools training packages. When I found out they weren’t, I encouraged the school to order an Allerject trainers and an information package (which they did).
- If I saw that my allergy boy had supply teacher, I introduced my allergy boy to him/her and pointed out that he carries an EpiPen
None of these things are failsafe, and there have been a number of bumps along the way. Like the time I told the supply teacher about my allergy boy and asked him he knew how to use an EpiPen. He said, “umm … maybe you should take him home today.” I marched right into the office to talk to the administration. They offered to let my allergy boy sit in with another class for the day (with one of his siblings and a teacher who knows him) but in the end I just took him home for the day.
Another time, a teacher in the school (not his classroom teacher) gave my allergy boy a treat without checking with me first. Everything was fine but I spoke to the administration later that day and together we made sure all teachers – not just my allergy boy’s classroom teacher – knew about my boy’s special treat bag. This was an oversight on both my and the school’s part.
My point is that it is something we are always mindful of. Unforeseen circumstances arise and we need to deal with them as they do.
How have you dealt with allergies at your child’s school?