Gathering school supplies, updating vaccines, and returning to a regular sleep schedule are part of a long list of things that need to be done before sending kids back to school. If your child also has a food allergy, preparing to go back to school takes extra effort and due diligence. Here are some things you can do to make sure your child's medical needs are met throughout the school year.
For Kids & Parents
Communicate early and often: As a parent, it is your responsibility to notify your child's school of his or her allergy. Provide the school with medical documentation as well as clearly labeled medications and instructions on how to use them. Keep the school updated on any episodes or changes to your child's condition.
Have a plan: Provide detailed written instructions outlining what to do in case of an emergency. Be sure this information is not only communicated to teachers, but also to those leading extra-curricular programs or driving school buses. Plan to meet with the school nurse and counselor to review your child's food allergy plan and make necessary accommodations. The Food Allergy Research & Education Center offers a downloadable Emergency Care Plan.
Know your rights: Some states have laws requiring schools and childcare facilities to adhere to certain guidelines to protect children with food allergies. Whether or not your state has these guidelines, it is against the law for your student to be excluded from classroom or school-sponsored activities because of his or her condition.
Teach self-management: Be sure your child is educated about their allergy and knows how to communicate it to adults (to the degree that can be expected, depending on their age). Older children and adolescents can take more responsibility for their condition; teach teens to read labels carefully, and check to see whether your child may be allowed to carry their own epipen in case of emergency. For children of all ages, a medical alert bracelet is always good idea.
For Schools & Teachers
Avoid allergens in class: Ideally, classrooms should be kept food-free. If that isn't possible, encourage teachers to avoid using foods that contain common allergens like nuts, milk, and soy as prizes or part of classroom instruction.
Coordinate care: Have a system for communicating students' allergy information to teachers and other staff that need to know about it. Making sure the process is the same for all students will ensure that nobody gets overlooked.
Provide training: Teach all staff to recognize symptoms of an allergic reaction, and train them to administer epinephrine auto-injectors. Consider specialized training for staff who work directly or more often with students who have allergies.
Adopt safe practices: Encourage staff and students to wash their hands after handling food and to keep potential allergens separate from other foods. Cafeteria kitchens should have designated "allergen-free" areas; food service staff should read labels carefully so that students know exactly what they are eating.
Address emotional needs: The key terms in creating a supportive environment for students with allergies are "safe" and "inclusive." Try to make accommodations for these students in a way that won't make them feel singled out. Teach other students about food allergies and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for bullying.
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