Many people don't think twice about educating themselves on food allergies. But the problem is that it truly does take a village to raise a family when it come to keeping kids safe in a school and child care environment. If you want people to care about your children and their needs, you also have to care about those around you. To be honest, it can be a real pain when you find out you can no longer pack PB&J sandwiches for your kid because Samantha in her class has a peanut allergy! Is it really THAT big of a deal you think? The truth is...it really is and here is why..these parents aren't being overprotective and dramatic. It's really not a joke when I say that a lack of caring and packing that sandwich could kill that child! Here is why you need to care and educate yourself on food allergies even if you and your family don't have them.
If you have a child and I do with a food allergy, sending them to school is nerve wracking. The peanut and tree nut allergy is one of the worst! For these children and even teens, with this allergy contact with a wrapper, drinking fountain, food, or kissing someone (for teens) can instantly cause them to have an anaphylaxic reaction and within minutes they can be gone. That is what happened for this mom who sent her 7 year old to school yesterday. (Full story here) The school isn't commenting on what happened, the fire department is questioning why an epipen wasn't administered, and a mother is without a child because of it. For me and many moms who have children with allergies we know all too well why this happened. Here are the main issues that occur at school for children with allergies:
1. Lack of communication. There are so many HEPA laws in place to provide privacy for us and our children. They are great in theory but can be a real problem in practice when it comes to communicating to the school, parents, and teachers that your child has a food allergy. Many schools will not publish outside a sign that indicates that there is a child with a food allergy. But one mom in our district wouldn't accept this at all. She went to the school and demanded that every parent who has a child with an allergy be given the right to waive their HEPA rights to allow the school to publish a sign that indicates that there is a child in a class room with a food allergy. Now, when you begin the school year, each parent receives a letter about food allergies with a waiver form. Every classroom in our school that has a child with a food allergy now has a sign. Parents then are really good about not packing nut and tree nut snacks for in classroom snack.
2. Where to keep the epipen. This is a HUGE problem. What happens if your child has a reaction at P.E. or music or recess...how long will it take someone to recognize there is a problem, get your child to the nurse, and go through the drawer full of epipens and find your childs? The answer....way too long! Again, a parent in our district recognized this and went to the district and asked that any teacher who has a child with an allergy be given a fanny pack to wear with an epipen in it with the child's name on it. She also asked that there be ones located in the cafeteria, the gym, the music rooms, and with the recess teachers. At first they thought she was crazy and overdramatic, until she asked for them to try to prove to her that they could get a child from the various locations to the nurses office within the time they needed to to save a child's life. They couldn't. They tried, but there was simply no way it could be done. None. Realizing her point, they now have done exactly what she suggested.
3. Community use of lunch room, water fountains, and school supplies. This is another nightmare situation. Unfortunately, even touching a pencil or eating at the same table as someone with a PB&J sandwich can send a child into a full blown reaction! Allergies really can be that sensitive. Again, this was a problem at our district. The school wasn't understanding the problem. This mom again, went to the school and explained to them that they needed to provide a nut free table for the kids with this allergy to sit at. They needed to make sure the kids used their own water bottles and that they have their own school supplies that they can use. That way, there is no accidental transfer. And it reduced the number of incidents that they had with kids being exposed to nuts! They were happy with the results, and have done that now at every school.
4. Eating in the classroom for Snacks, Birthday parties.holiday parties, and holiday baggies of goodies. It's the same problem as the lunch room where food is brought into the classroom, a treat bag of M&M''s and erasers are put in your child's backpack for Halloween, and the class party is brimming with peanut infested food. The problem is that if there isn't proper communication or you have a parent that just isn't going to listen about the severity of the allergy it can be nerve wracking. It takes a dropped wrapper, your daughter picking it up, touching a chair, or reaching into your backpack...to take a fun day and turn it into your worst nightmare. In this case you have to pray all parents are on board and hope that if something goes wrong that the school does what they know they must to save your child.
5. Not knowing how to identifying an allergic reaction. The other problem is that when a child starts coughing, turning red, and grabbing their throat, and having trouble breathing...many people assume they are choking. But they are not. And sometimes there is so much going on at recess and during and activity and it happens so quickly that you don't see the first indications of it. Proper training on what an allergy looks like, the questions to ask a child if it's early on are key! This happened at a class party two years ago I was at. We were all outside having snow cones and the kids were lining up from the different classes. I noticed that this one child had bumps all over her legs and was leaning forward. Because all the kids were getting up, it looked like she was just getting up. But I remembered that her classroom had a severe allergy sign outside of it. I ran to the teacher and said, is that the kids that has the allergy. She looked, the teacher's eyes got huge, and I was literally running like the wind with this child to get an epipen. If I hadn't had a child who had an allergy, I probably wouldn't have noticed until she was on the ground, and I wouldn't have thought anything about it but the memory of the sign being outside of that classroom all year made me think about it. It proved to me in that second how it's important to remember as a parent and teacher who has the allergy and keep a watchful eye out at all times and know what to look for. (ALLERGIC REACTION SYMPTOMS LIST)
6. Asking students and teachers to wash their hands before and after you eat! Another thing that schools are starting to do to help prevent the possibility of a reaction is to require kids to wash their hands both before and after their snacks and meals. This really helps get the majority of germs and possibly peanut butter and nut transfer off of their hands.
To be honest, until my daughter had her own food allergy, I don't think I really understood completely how difficult it is for parents whose kids have life threatening food allergies let their kids go to school and make the school safe for their child. Many schools and communities are recognizing this and to show support they have started to create peanut free schools or make entire districts peanut free! It sounds really extreme to those of us who aren't allergic to peanut butter, but imagine the peace, support, and love that a parent who's kid has the allergy feels at that moment. Not only are you not going to segregate their child at lunch and make them feel different, but they can literally breathe a sigh of relief and know that the school really is trying. There still is a chance that your child can get exposed to it on accident, but the community is behind you! As most parents know with any issue that you have, to help keep kids safe it takes community awareness, compassion, teamwork, and proper planning to ensure that a tragedy like the one yesterday NEVER happens.
Do you have a food allergy? Does your child? Does the school that you work at or your kid goes to have a plan in place?
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