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Flashdance and Food Allergies?

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Every now and again someone will post a picture on social media around “throwback Thursday” or such that takes me back to my childhood.  Sometimes it is an old family picture that reminds me of life growing up with my parents and two sisters, and sometimes it’s a picture from my school days that for a few moments helps me to remember what it was like to be a kid.  If I allow my mind to wander down that path, I stop to consider all the things that are vastly different than when I was a child.  No continuous access to a phone! Passing notes in school, doing research in a library, cheap gas, big hair and neon. I look back on those things fondly, even the big hair. :)  When I consider some things that my kids will never experience, I have to confess it makes me a little sad.  There was something about Saturday morning cartoons that just always made that day one to look forward to…………

Sometimes I consider those changes in the context of my job.  In all my years of schooling, I never knew of any student to have a life-threatening allergy.  It just didn’t happen.   And  later when I started working in school health  it was still rare. Thirteen years later it seems that there are several children with life threatening food allergies in every school and chances are ……..  in your classrooms and schools.  The amount of hair spray used since the 80’s isn’t the only thing that has changed.

A process for dealing with a plan to manage life threatening food allergies is essential for every school and classroom where children have allergies. There are simple measures that can be taken to help make your school and classrooms a safe learning environment for even the most severely allergic child. And these are easy measures to institute.

First, check your school and district policy for food allergies.  Some states are strong in this area, others not so much.  But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published some “voluntary guidelines” for schools to follow.  This document can be found at:

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/foodallergies/pdf/13_243135_A_Food_Allergy_Web_508.pdf

It is an excellent resource for schools to utilize.  You will also want to follow your district procedures for referral through ADA or IDEA when it comes to students with life threatening conditions. That process will vary according to the need.

You can do some things that will make a big difference in your classroom:  talk to the parents of the child with allergies to see if it’s okay to send a letter home to other parents letting them know there is a student with a life threatening condition in your class.  Ask them not to send that product with their children (ex. if the allergy is peanuts, then ask for no peanut butter containing products).  Ideally all parents would honor that request but there are many many variables which come into play.  So what you CAN do is make your classroom a “nut free” zone.  Don’t allow kids to eat those items in the classroom, and have a plan worked out  as to how eating in the cafeteria will be handled  (that’s a topic for another blog).

Post “Peanut free Zone” (or tree nut) outside of your classroom and inside as well.  Only allow parents to send in prepackaged foods with labels (no homemade treats) so that you can look to see what ingredients have been included.  Always make sure students wash their hands after eating to get rid of any residual oils (hand sanitizer will not do the job) and make sure that the student (and you) have access to his/her epi pen!! You will also want to be sure that a school nurse has trained you to recognize the signs of an anaphylactic reaction, and on the use of that particular brand of pen.  And finally, always be on the lookout for signs of bullying- which can be a common occurrence for children with severe allergies.   Often those incidences can be minimized by providing other children with education about food allergies.

For a free checklist that may be helpful to make sure things have been addressed in your room go to http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Checklist-for-Making-a-Classroom-Allergy-Ready-1644565.  It is meant for the classroom level (and not the other areas of school where modifications may need to occur)  but can give you an “at a glance” of some key areas.

Students learn best when they are healthy and safe, and even though the level of care in classrooms has changed over the last several years, the needs of children haven’t.  If we want to ensure success for all children, then a few simple steps can help make the classroom a much safer environment.