Heading back to school brings a mix of emotions for parents under the best of circumstances, but when you are preparing to send a child with life-threatening food allergies into a new classroom, and in some cases an entirely new school, the preparation can be extremely anxiety provoking. Considerations for how to keep your child safe extend beyond the classroom walls to areas such as the cafeteria, recess, field trips and transportation and often leave parents feeling overwhelmed and nervous. Depending on your child's age and needs the practices put in place will vary, yet there are a number of resources and considerations that every parent can take advantage of.
Consider Potential Allergens - Regardless of the number of food allergies your child is managing it is important to think about all potential opportunities for exposure or cross-contact. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), "Food used in lesson plans for math or science, crafts, and cooking classes may need to be substituted depending on the allergies of the students." This list of potential food allergens in preschool, school, and camp activities is a wonderful resources that not only outlines potential risks but also identifies potentially safe alternatives. We make a point to share this resource with the classroom teacher each year and review potential exposures prior to the start of school.
Know the Law and Your Rights - Having the right documentation in place is an important step in keeping your food-allergic child safe at school. Any student with documented life-threatening food allergies is eligible for a 504 Plan under the American Disability Act. If your school or school district receives federal funding (including grants) they are required to provide such a plan and the necessary accommodations to keep your child safe (this will include an Individualized Health Care Plan). That being said, there is not an exact outline of the accommodations a school must provide. The following document includes a list of guidelines (see pgs. 41-43) to be taken into consideration when establishing a plan for a child.
Communication is Key - Each child's allergies manifest differently and no two children will exhibit identical symptoms when exposed to an allergen; therefor, it is essential that you communicate early and often with your child's teacher and school administration about their particular situation. It is important to ask questions in order to learn about:
Utilize Your Resources - If you are feeling overwhelmed or are simply struggling to find the best answer to your question take advantage of the following resources:
With open communication and a clear plan the school year can be a success all around. As your child's advocate trust your instincts, maintain a positive attitude about the school year, and when in doubt reach out to the appropriate contact to ask questions along the way.
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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