If you have a child with food allergies, you know how much planning goes into grocery shopping, cooking, eating out, play time with other kids and just about every other activity. Now you have to get ready to send your child to school, where you won’t be around to protect her and watch out for contamination. The good news is that with the increase in food allergies, many schools and teachers are prepared and have had students with special food needs. And, there are steps you can take to plan for a safe and fun school experience for your child:
- Talk to school administrators and the nurse.
Don’t be afraid to start planning early. Starting in the spring for the next school year is a great idea. The first part of your plan should be to talk to the principal or other administrators and the nurse that works at the school so that they are aware of your child’s allergies. Find out how often and when the nurse is in the school, and who will be responsible for caring for your child in the event of a reaction when the nurse is not present. Fill out any forms that the school needs, like those for emergency plans and contacts, medical authorization, and special meals.
- Meet with your child’s doctor or allergist.
Meeting with your child’s doctor is important to ensure that you have enough prescriptions to stock the school with epinephrine injectors in case of emergency. Your school may also require that your doctor sign certain forms, so make sure you pick them up before your visit and return them to the school before the first day.
- Meet with the food services director.
Just filling out a form for special meals is not enough. Plan to meet with your school or district’s food service director so you can discuss what your child can’t eat and to hear how they are prepared to avoid cross-contamination. This is an important step even if you plan to pack your child’s lunches. There may be special occasions on which your child wants to join in with the others to eat a special meal.
- Meet with your child’s teacher before the first day.
It is important that you meet with many people at your child’s school, from the principal to the nurse to your child’s teacher. There are some very important questions you should get answered by the teacher:
- How do you manage food allergies in the classroom?
- What precautions do you take for food allergic students?
- What are your classroom rules regarding food?
- Do you allow food sharing?
- How do you prevent or handle bullying of students with food allergies?
- How will my child be protected on field trips?
- How do you alert substitute teachers about students with food allergies?
- Start preparing your child to be more independent.
If this is your child’s first experience at school, start getting her ready to manage her own food allergies. Start as early as the year before school by teaching her about her allergy, about what she can and can’t eat, how to ask for help from teachers and other school staff, about what to do if she has a reaction, and how to avoid sharing food and washing hands regularly. Teach her about her epinephrine pen too, and make sure she understands that she needs to carry one at all times, even when with you.
- Put together supplies to be stored at school.
Make sure your child has everything she needs at school before classes start. This means stocking your child’s classroom with safe snacks, but also putting these snacks in shelter areas in the event of a lockdown or disaster event. Provide your teacher and the lunchroom with hand wipes for sanitizing her hands and surfaces. Epinephrine pens should be stocked in your child’s classroom, in shelter areas, with cafeteria workers, and in the main office.
Getting ready for school is always exciting and nerve-wracking, but even more stressful when you are letting go of a child with serious food allergies. The key is to make a plan and to start implementing that plan early. Start with these guidelines and do everything you think is necessary to ensure your child will be safe and will have fun at school.