By Kristen Chandler
When a child with food allergies attends school, there are a number of people who are responsible for the management of their allergies: the child (if he or she is old enough), the school nursing staff, the child’s teacher(s) and possibly other teachers and administration. I’m not sure about other school districts in other states, but until last year at my children’s school there was just one designated medically trained person per grade level. Beginning last year, however, all school staff members in our district were required to be medically trained, including knowing how to administer epinephrine. However, there is one group of school staff who have frequent contact with our children, who people may not automatically think about: the bus drivers.
In the past, bus drivers have been advised to pull over in the event of an emergency and to immediately call 911 for assistance. But when it comes to a severe allergic reaction, time is sensitive. A child could very well die while waiting for EMS to arrive. Many older children carry their epinephrine with them and know how to self-administer, but if they’re in distress, they may not be able to do so. This has led a lot of food allergy parents to push for bus drivers to be educated on administering epinephrine, as well as be permitted to do so.
Children who ride the bus but do not carry their own EpiPens are at significant risk. Many schools now have a stock of epinephrine to be used in the event of an emergency, but it is kept either in the nurse’s office or the main office. Due to the current cost of EpiPen, it is unlikely that buses will carry epinephrine. Also, EpiPens have to be temperature regulated, so a bus is not an ideal place to store them. All students who ride a bus should carry their auto injectors with them, because waiting for outside assistance to come might take too long.
So, if your food-allergic child rides a bus to and from school, what steps can you take to ensure their safety in the event of an allergic reaction?
- Remind your child to be aware of their surroundings. Children shouldn’t be eating on the bus, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. Encourage your child to sit with someone who they not only know well, but someone who is also aware of their food allergies. The younger you start teaching them to be their own advocate, the better they will be at self-management as they get older.
- If your child has an individualized healthcare plan (IHP), emergency action plan (EAP) or 504 plan in place at school, find out if your child’s bus ride is included in it (if you didn’t write the plan up yourself). It should be. In whichever plant you do have, you can specify that, in the event of an allergic emergency, the bus driver is to administer epinephrine before calling 911.
- Find out if your child’s bus driver is trained to administer epinephrine. You could request a meeting with the head administrator at your child’s school and ask that all school staff, including bus drivers, be trained to administer epinephrine, if they aren’t already. However, there are ways you can help your child’s bus driver, as well. You can set up a meeting and walk them through the signs of an anaphylactic reaction, as well as how to administer epinephrine. There are also several teaching videos available on YouTube that you can recommend.
We all want to ensure that our children will be safe at school, and this includes bus rides to and from school. Making sure that your child’s bus driver is educated and trained as far as allergies and epinephrine are concerned not only keeps your child safe, but will likely ease your mind as well.