Overseeing your child’s allergies while he or she is in school can be overwhelming. The possibility that your child could accidentally come in contact with an allergen is a very real concern. Whether school officials have the ability to deal with allergy related emergencies or not is also a major concern. In 2006, 88 percent of schools had at least one student with food allergies, and 16 to 18 percent of children with allergies had a reaction from accidentally eating an allergen while at school. To address gaps in the ability to deal with children’s food allergies and reactions while they are at school, the United States Congress passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011.
What Does FSMA Do?
FSMA’s main goal is to improve food safety by shifting the focus on food allergies from response to prevention. It also prompted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Education (DOE) and other organizations that have expertise in clinical food allergy, to work together to make schools safer for kids with allergies. The result is voluntary guidelines that help schools and early childhood education programs better manage kid’s food allergy risks, and severe reactions. It encourages partnerships between parents and school administrators, nurses and teachers to reduce the chance students will encounter allergens while they are at school. The guidelines are intended to be voluntary suggestions, best if practiced by both parents and schools, but they are not laws. Guideline highlights include:
Using effective partnerships to coordinate approaches
- Comprehensive planning to manage food allergies and emergencies
- Individualized plans for children
- Food emergency preparation
- Professional development for staff
- Coordinating teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, counselors, school health personnel and other staff who monitor children during the school day
- Information regarding federal laws that govern food allergies in schools
- Food allergy resources
Tips for Partnering with Schools
What can parents do to help keep their kids safe at school? According to the guidelines, at the beginning of each year parents can provide their child’s school or care program with the following information:
Documentation from a physician supporting the diagnosis of a food allergy
- Which foods trigger the allergy
- Any risk of anaphylaxis
- Any medication prescribed for the allergy
- How to recognize allergic reaction in your child
- Emergency protocols for your child
Parents may also consider addressing whether their child is able to self-administer medication in an emergency.
What will schools and care programs do with this information? The guidelines advise schools use this information to develop individualized plans to reduce students’ risk, and to act in an emergency if necessary. School Boardscan also adopt written policies that direct and support clear, consistent and effective practices including:
- Designating an allergen-safe food preparation area in the cafeteria
- Avoiding use of identified allergens in class projects, celebrations or science experiments
- Using non-food incentives for prizes and gifts
- Prohibit eating on buses except by children with special dietary needs, such as diabetes.
And, in the event of an emergency, the guidelines suggest training school personnel to administer epinephrine if the school nurse is not readily available, and to communicate withproviders of emergency medical services.
What This Means for You and Your Child
Because children’s food allergies are an emerging health issue, schools and care programs have begun implementing strategies to manage allergies while children are in their care. This means, overall, school personnel are paying more attention to your child’s safety with regard to food. However, some school staff might still need to learn about food allergies and practices to avoid allergens in the school setting. Many behaviors, such as reading ingredient labels, which may be automatic for parents whose children suffer from allergies, may be overlooked by others. Continuing to develop partnerships with key people at your child’s school—including cafeteria staff, maintenance staff, transportation staff, coaches, other parents and your child’s classmates—is important as each person plays a role in food allergy management.
As policies change and food allergy awareness grows, it is becoming less complicated for kids to transition from home to school seamlessly. Equally, it is becoming more manageable to keep prevention techniques the same as well as treatment protocols in the event of an emergency.