We know we can expect physical distancing, extra hand-washing, face masks or coverings, and other policies this school year due to the new coronavirus. As a parent of a child with food allergies, you may also need to make changes to your child’s school health care plan.
What Is a School Health Care Plan?
A school health care plan is a document (or set of documents) that outlines your child’s food allergy and how it should be managed while at school. A school health care plan can help protect your student and keep them healthy.
These are the three most common care plans:
- An emergency care plan (ECP) is a medical plan from your child’s doctor for the school to follow. It also lists the student’s allergies, symptoms and emergency treatment instructions.
- An individualized health care plan (IHCP) is a type of nursing care plan. The school nurse often creates it with the family, student, teachers and doctors. An IHCP addresses what the school will do to keep a safe school environment. It often contains an ECP.
- A 504 plan is a legal contract between the school and the student. It gives you and your child more protections if the school does not follow the plan. It also has guidelines for changes to make in the classroom or other areas to provide a safe education.
Will My Child’s School Health Care Plan Change Because of COVID-19 Policies and Processes?
Most schools in the U.S. are implementing new policies this year to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. This could include physical (social) distancing, extra hand-washing, face masks or coverings, increased site cleaning and sanitizing, and schedule changes. If your child has food allergies, think about how new policies and practices could affect your child. Then talk to the school administrators.
Here are some examples of questions you may want to ask your child’s school:
What type of school health care plan will be best for my child?
If your child is returning to school for in-person teaching, find out how the school is managing food allergies because of COVID-19. Read “COVID-19 Guidelines for Schools and the Impact on Kids With Food Allergies and Asthma.” Look at the possible changes and how that might affect your child. Your child’s school health care plan may have to change based on new COVID-19 policies.
Request copies of the school’s health forms now, if you haven’t already. Then call your child’s doctor right away to make arrangements to have the forms signed. Many doctors have added restrictions to ensure physical distancing. It may take longer to get forms signed because of this.
If your child has an ECP and you have any concerns about new procedures that you can’t note on the school health forms, consider asking for a meeting or phone call. If your child doesn’t have a 504 plan and you think they will need one, start the process right away. If your child already has a 504 plan, decide if you need to request a meeting, video conference or phone call with the school. You and the school may find it easier to first talk with the school staff about how to keep your child safe.
If your child is attending school virtually (online at home), you probably won’t need a 504 plan. But if you are concerned about a high number of absences and doctors’ appointments because of their allergies, you might need a 504 plan that covers this.
How will meals and other food in the classroom be managed?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that students eat meals in their classrooms. If your child has a school health care plan that states food cannot be eaten in the classroom, that may need to change due to COVID-19 policies. Protocols to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 may take priority over other accommodations. But there are other precautions that can keep your child safe. COVID-19 protocols will mean more frequent desk and surface cleaning and more frequent hand-washing. Physical distancing can help reduce food exposure. Talk to your child’s school to figure out creative ways to prevent food allergy reactions within new policies.
What kind of soaps and hand sanitizers will the school use? Will they contain my child’s allergens? Can I send safe soap and hand sanitizer from home?
Food allergens can hide in some soaps and hand sanitizers. If this is a concern for your child, ask about sending in soap or hand sanitizer from home. Ask how they will ensure your child has access to it and how the container will be sanitized to prevent the spread of germs. And remember, hand sanitizer doesn’t remove food proteins from hands, but hand-washing does.
Where will medicines will be stored? Can my child self-carry their medicines?
Every state protects a child’s right to self-carry their medicine, including epinephrine. But your child may not be old enough to carry their medicine yet. If they aren’t, ask where medicines will be kept and if they will be close and easily accessible. Ask if they will take steps to reduce their exposure to multiple staff members to get to their epinephrine.
Also, ask about their plan to watch for signs of an allergic reaction that may be hidden by a face mask or covering. Remind your child to tell their teacher or other school staff right away if they have symptoms, especially if the mask covers any signs like hives or swelling.
Where Can I Find More COVID-19 School Resources?
Schools that reopen will face a lot of challenges during the 2020-2021 school year. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) has created some resources to help school nurses, administers, staff and teachers. Check out the resources below and share them with your child’s school. (Kids With Food Allergies is a division of AAFA.)
New school policies may change how food allergies are handled in schools. This blog post looks at how these changes could affect kids with food allergies. We also include helpful information for parents and school staff.
Our COVID-19 and Asthma Toolkit for Schools provides guidance to help schools as they develop their policies and procedures to both prevent the spread of the new coronavirus and protect students and staff with asthma. This toolkit is a supplement to current district, state and CDC guidelines.
It’s important to know how to prevent life-threatening medical emergencies like anaphylaxis, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make a pact to “ACT” for allergy. Follow these three steps to reduce your child’s chance of having a severe allergic reaction:
- Make an anaphylaxis action plan with your child's doctor.
- Carry two epinephrine auto-injectors everywhere your child goes and have them wear a medical ID.
- Talk to your child's doctor about the best therapies and treatments for your child.