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How to Keep Your Allergic Child Safe at School

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Is your child heading to school with life-threatening food allergies this September like mine is? It’s a terrifying prospect – to give up the care of your child to other people, especially in a situation which could potentially be life-threatening.

As a public school teacher who has seen some food allergy safety “fails” in the past at my schools, I want to make sure that my son’s school is prepared with the knowledge that they will need to keep him safe.

Today I’m sharing a list of things to think about, and some important questions to ask of administrators and teachers, to keep your allergic child safe at school this year. If your child does not have a food allergy, please pass this along to someone you know who does!

When I met with my son’s administrator before the summer break, I was relieved to see that safety precautions with regards to food allergies have come a long way in the four years that I’ve been off on parental leave.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, food allergies are becoming so commonplace these days, that most parents and educators are more than aware of the precautions that need to be taken to protect our kids.

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However, there is no one else who is going to care about your child and their safety as much as YOU are – and there are definitely questions that should be asked of your school’s administration and staff before your child leaves your care – even if it’s just to calm your own anxieties! (It worked for me!)

Today I’m sharing with you a list of questions that I asked my son’s administrator in May, and that I will be asking his classroom teacher the week before school starts.

At the end of the post – you will find a download link to print yourself a PDF copy of this checklist.

You’ve probably already thought of some of these questions, but maybe some are things you hadn’t thought about – especially if you’re not in the education system like me.

Unfortunately, some of these questions have come from my observation of things that weren’t considered at my schools in the past. Let’s hope that you hear all the “right” answers from your child’s school!

Questions to Ask Your School Administrator

What policies and procedures are in place to keep kids with food allergies safe?

  • Is the school allergen-free? Is there a separate eating area for kids with food allergies?

What information do you need from me?

  • Do you have an emergency medical plan for me to fill out? Do you need our doctor’s signature on it?

How will the school communicate food safety information to parents of other children?

  • Will a note be sent home? Will signs be placed on the front door to the school if it’s an allergen-free zone?

How will safety information be communicated to school staff members not directly working with my child, but who may be supervising my child at recess time/library/gym etc.?

  • Information sharing may take place at a staff meeting, or there may be posters for each child up in a staff room.

How will supply teachers be informed of my child’s allergy?

  • Make sure you’re satisfied that this information will be in a prominent place so that it cannot be missed by supply teachers. Having it marked on attendance sheets is a great idea.

Where will my child’s epipens be kept? Will my child be allowed to carry an epipen?

  • Medications should be kept in an area that is easily accessible by adults and in an unlocked room at all times, or transported with your child.

How and when will staff be trained? Can I attend the training or assist in any way? Would the school like to borrow a trainer epipen?

  • You can purchase trainer epipens that can be used for staff to practise with. I got mine through Anaphylaxis Canada’s site (listed below). The trainer does not have a needle inside or medication, but is the same to the real one in all other ways.

Will training be provided to all lunchtime supervisors including supply supervisors?

  • Even just asking this question, lets the administration know how careful you expect them to be with regards to your child’s safety.

Questions to Ask Classroom Teachers

What precautions will be taken during mealtime to keep my child safe?

  • Discussing precautions is a great way to find out how much your child’s classroom teacher knows about food allergies.

Will there be an adult present during mealtime for the entire break?

  • This one is very important for young children who may be unable to communicate distress or symptoms to adults. Please note: It may not be realistic to expect a supervisor present the entire time if your child is in older grades (grade 4+) where supervision is often split between a few classes.

How will the other children be informed? Would you like a recommendation for a picture book that discusses food allergies?

  • Decide if you want the other children to be told about your child’s allergy. A picture book is often a great way to introduce the topic. Next week, I will have a post with a list of fantastic books that you could recommend!

Would you like me to review the use of the epipen with you?

  • Most teachers will answer that they would like a review unless they’ve had repeated training or experiences. Bring along your child’s medication or a trainer.

What are the classroom rules around sharing food?

  • Asking this question will give you peace of mind that the topic will come up on the first day of school.

What will happen if another child brings in a food that contains my child’s allergen?

  • At my son’s school, when a mistake happens – that child is sent to the office to trade-in the food containing an allergen for a healthy and safe option.

What are the classroom expectations/routines around washing hands before (and possibly after) mealtimes?

  • This question allows you to see whether the children will be prompted to do hand-washing, or if they will be expected to do it themselves during a washroom break. If your child’s school allows the allergen, you may want to ask about having kids wash hands and desks after eating.

Are families allowed to bring in snacks/treats for classroom parties? Is it okay to send in alternate treats for my child? Would you like recommendations for allergen-free products?

  • Parties can be a tricky situation for kids with food allergies. Best to find out the policy up front, so that you can supply your child’s teacher with a small store of alternate treats for your child if necessary.

How will allergies be monitored on school trips?

  • Who will be carrying the epipens (child or teacher)? Will there be a no-eating rule on the bus? Will the allergen be at the destination? Ie. Farm trip – Does the feed contain peanut or nuts? Are the animals fed milk and is it in a bowl where a child could touch it?

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