NEW TO SCHOOL OR NEW TO FOOD ALLERGIES?
My son graduated from college last year. Kindergarten was a long time ago for us. But, I can still remember how worried I was to send him off to a new school. I wasn't sure if the school was familiar with food allergies and how to manage them in the classroom.
I've learned a lot along the way. Most importantly, I've learned that advance planning and a positive relationship are the keys to success in sending your child off to a new school. This same approach works for any new situation for that matter!
The following are my tips for success in entering a new school that I hope will be of help to you.
1. Do your homework.
Find out if your school has food allergy management policies in place. Many do now. Review the recommended responsibilities for families, students and school staff to find out key items that need to be addressed in the school setting. Also read up on guidance for parents.
2. Start early.
Don’t wait until the beginning of the school year to start planning. Send a letter to the school principal. In that letter requesting a meeting with you and your child the year before your child will be entering his new school.
3. Meet the school nurse.
Schedule an introductory meeting with the school nurse well in advance of the beginning of the school year. Find out what services are available. Find out if the school has a full time school nurse. Find out how the health room operates during a typical school day.
4. Get a doctor's letter.
Work with your child's pediatrician or allergist. Ask for a letter that outlines precautions and treatment recommendations your child will need for his health and safety.
5. Develop a school food allergy management plan in advance of the first day of school.
Work with your school nurse and other designated staff. Use the information in your child’s doctor’s letter to create a school food allergy health care plan customized for your child’s needs. Discuss whether your child needs an individualized health care plan (IHCP) and 504 plan.
6. Meet the teacher.
Schedule time to meet with the teacher. Discuss classroom accommodations that will be included in your child's school plan. A list of examples is in the CDC Food Allergy Management Guidelines for Schools and Early Childhood Education Programs (see pages 41-43).
7. Prepare your child.
Start working with your child, in an age-appropriate way. Teach him what he is responsible for. Teaching points include avoiding allergens, not sharing food and speaking up if he starts to have an allergic reaction at school.
8. Make your health room checklist for the first day of school.
Fill out all forms in a timely manner, including ones that designate emergency contacts other than you. As soon as school opens on the first day, turn in your child's physician orders for medication administration, a food allergy emergency care plan and a fresh supply of any medicines your child may need during the school day as soon as school opens on the first day. If possible, make sure medications don't expire during the school year so you won't have to deal with replacing them.
9. Make your classroom checklist for the first day of school.
Make a list of all of the items you will need to drop off for your child beyond the usual school supplies, like hand wipes, medications, non-perishable foods for disaster or shelter-in-place situations, etc.
10. Form an ongoing partnership.
Check in periodically with the teacher and school nurse to make sure the plan is working and your child is adjusting. Choose your battles wisely and collaborate with your child's school. A positive approach will help you obtain positive outcomes when issues of divisiveness surface.
Despite your understandable worry, keep in mind that most children with food allergies attend school safely every day. Plan ahead and be proactive — stay calm, clearly communicate and offer solutions when things do or don't go right. School planning is a process, and you will find yourself modifying and making adjustments as the year unfolds.
Lynda Mitchell is the parent of a college graduate who has food allergies. She is Vice President at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. She also the founder of Kids With Food Allergies (KFA). Kids With Food Allergies is now a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.