Sending your child off to school for the first time is difficult for most parents. When your child has food allergies, there can be even more anxiety. Then, hearing about the death of a 7 year old girl at school in Virginia can tip the anxiety over the top! The details around the sad, tragic death of first grade student, Ammaria Johnson, may never be fully known. (Click here for more info about this tragedy.) What is known is that Ammaria never received epinephrine at her school. Her Mom had authorized an Allergy Action Plan, but it appears to not have been followed. With good preparation and communication, your child with food allergies can be safe at school. As parents, there is a lot we can do to avert such a tragedy.
I’ve heard from many parents after this sad story hit the news. Many were concerned that no school could ever keep their child safe. There’s a lot to be learned from this situation. It’s my experience that children with food allergies can go to school AND can stay safe and be included! Here’s what we have found to work from preschool into high school.
Before the first day of school, every one of our son’s teachers has read his 504 Plan and Health Care Plan. They know what to do to decrease the chances of him coming into contact with his allergens in their classroom and the lunchroom. They also have been trained how to administer his EpiPen.
- We provided multiple EpiPens to the school for the classroom, nurse’s office and playground monitor prior to our son being able to self-carry his medicine.
- We made sure our son, Morgan, knew exactly what he was allergic to. He wears a MedicAlert bracelet that details this also.
- We had an agreement that he ate only food that Mom or Dad packed for him or brought to school (for a party) when he was in elementary and middle school. He never purchased the school lunch or anything from a vending machine.
- Morgan, my husband and I educated his friends about his food allergies through classroom presentations and Cub Scout/Boy Scout meetings. Books like Allie the Allergic Elephant were read to the class so that his classmates could learn what an allergic reaction looked like and what symptoms could occur.
- We keep communicating …with the Principal, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, etc…education about food allergies isn’t a onetime shot. It needs to be brought up over and over again. And when the conversation does occur, we focus on being kind about the message that we all want to keep Morgan safe!
It doesn’t have to be complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! It does take a lot of preparation and communication with the school to keep your child safe.
Accidents do occur, so talk to your child about what they would do if someone offered them a food. Roll play situations. What would they do if someone sat in their allergen free zone in the cafeteria? Help them with options and solutions. What if someone teased them? Help your child learn how to become a good self-advocate.
Morgan’s friends watched out for him because they knew about his food allergies. We never kept his allergies a secret, and that has continued to work for us as he has aged into a teenager.
For those of you with children entering preschool or kindergarten in the Fall – it’s not too early to begin discussions with the school of your choice. Check out our e-book on Food Allergies & Schools and our Nut Free Zone posters to help raise awareness!