When your child has food allergies, preparing for a new school year takes extra work and planning. But prepping in advance can go a long way toward helping your child and their school staff prevent food allergy reactions and have a great school year.
Use these tips to get ready for the new school year before it starts.
Communicate with the school about your child’s food allergies.
Start as early as possible – over the spring or summer before the next school year. It’s a good idea to contact the school principal and school nurse in writing and to request a meeting or phone call to discuss your child’s specific needs.
During this meeting, find out if there is a school or district nurse and how the school handles food allergies.
Here are some other questions you may want to ask:
- What is the school’s/district’s food allergy management policy?
- Is staff trained on how to manage food allergies?
- When is the nurse at the school? Who takes care of students when the nurse isn’t there?
- Where will my child’s emergency medicines be held during the day?
- How are field trips managed?
- What is the school’s policy about food allergy bullying?
Also, talk to the school about your child’s care plan. Your child will need a care plan that lists their food allergies, common symptoms, and steps to take if they have a food allergy reaction. It may also include steps school staff should take to prevent reactions. The three most common types of school care plans are:
- Emergency care plan (ECP) – This is a medical plan from your child’s doctor for the school to follow.
- Individualized health care plan (IHCP) – This is a type of nursing care plan. For a student with food allergies, this would include an emergency care plan.
- 504 plan – This is a legal contract between a school and a student.
While you’re talking about the care plan, get copies of the forms you’ll need to have filled out before schools starts, such as:
- Medication authorization
- Special dietary needs accommodation
- Emergency action plan
Meet with your child’s teacher and the food services director.
Schedule meetings with your child’s teacher and the food services director to review your child’s food allergy before school starts.
Here are some questions you can ask during these meetings:
- How are food allergies handled in the classroom, including during “specials” like art and music, celebrations, and classroom activities that might include food?
- Will safe snacks be served or can you bring a stash of safe snacks for my child? Where and how will snack stash be stored?
- What are the class’ handwashing practices?
- Where are meals served? If served in the classroom, how is cleaning handled?
- Can I request meals with safe substitutions?
Meals and snack time aren’t the only times when you need to be concerned about your child coming into contact with food allergens. Food allergens can hide in many arts and crafts. Or teachers and staff may give food as rewards. When you talk to the teacher, encourage non-food rewards and non-food curriculum.
Start preparing for the school year well in advance.
After you’ve contacted the school, it’s time to put your plan into action. Make an appointment for your child to see their doctor during the summer. At this appointment, ask for any medicine refills, get an updated Anaphylaxis Action Plan, and have them sign the school’s forms.
Give the doctor a couple of weeks to sign the forms and get them back to you. They usually have a lot of form requests before school starts. Turn the signed forms into the school before the first day.
Teach your child age-appropriate skills to help them self-manage their food allergy.
As your child grows, they can learn age-appropriate ways to manage their food allergy. Some self-management skills may include:
- Recognizing symptoms of a food allergy reaction
- Telling an adult when they are having symptoms
- Washing their hands properly
- Reading food labels
- Reporting bullying or harassment
- Carrying and using their own epinephrine auto-injector
Talk with your child’s doctor and ask if your child is old enough to self-carry and take their medicines on their own. If your child will carry their own epinephrine, work with the doctor and the school to make sure proper paperwork is in place. All 50 states have laws allowing children to self-carry their own medicine.
Understand that COVID-19 policies may affect food allergy management in schools.
Even though vaccines and other measures have helped reduce COVID-19 infections, many schools will likely still have COVID-19 policies in place for the new school year. This may affect how food allergies are handled in your child’s school compared to before the pandemic.
Some schools may still serve meals in classrooms, limit celebrations, and manage food allergies a bit differently. Talk to the school about how their COVID-19 policies may affect the management of your child’s food allergies. The good news is many COVID-19 policies, like frequent handwashing and surface cleaning, can also help prevent food allergy reactions.
Create an end-of-school year plan.
The school year can go by fast. Add the following reminders to your spring calendar:
- Start the process to create or update your child’s IHCP or 504 plan
- Prepare for end-of-year celebrations if food will be served
- Pick up unused medicines on the last day of school and check expiration dates
- Pick up your child’s safe snack stash
- Schedule your child’s allergist appointment for the summer
Visit KFA’s school planning zone for more helpful tips, articles, handouts, and resources.
What are some of your favorite back-to-school planning tips? Join our online community to talk to other parents about how you manage food allergies at school.