No matter how many years our food allergic daughter has been in the public school system, I still get nervous as we enter those last few weeks before the start of a new school year. Will the teachers, staff, and school nurse remember that Cate has life-threatening allergies? Will all the policies we put in place last year still be in place this year, or will I have to reinvent the wheel … again? Will the peanut-free table actually have a sign on it on the first day of school? And how can I possibly turn the peanut-free table into the peanut, tree nut and egg-free table?
Our family believes that talking openly about Cate’s allergies is one of the best ways to keep her safe. So, every year in the spring, we discuss with our Principal and our District Nurse how the year went and what we might tweak next year as we manage her food allergies in the school environment. While those conversations are so helpful, sometimes you need to put things in writing so that people can refer to them as needed.
So, last year we documented what we call Cate’s “Food Rules” and we asked her school to support them. Not only did they support the Food Rules, but most of our school and district staff seemed relieved to have such specific guidance about how to avoid a potential reaction to food. Remember, if you don’t live with food allergies on a daily basis, you really have no idea where the risks for a food allergic child can hide.
After you educate your child about staying safe while at school, educate the school. Don’t expect the school to have all the answers; teach them (in a kind and non-confrontational way, of course!) how to minimize the risks for food allergic children at school.
Here is a Word document copy of Cate’s Food Rules (the text is also shown below). Feel free to revise and adapt it to help manage your child’s food allergies in the school environment:
Cate’s Food Rules for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies
To: (insert names of your Principal, Asst. Principal, School Nurse, District Nurse and Teacher)
From: (insert your name and “Parent of: (your child’s name)”)
Date: (insert date including the year)
As another school year begins, it’s the perfect time to check in about how Cate’s allergies are being managed in the school environment. Each of you have helped us so much by making Cate’s class peanut-free and helping the students understand the serious nature of Cate’s medical condition. Talking freely and openly about Cate’s food allergies is important to keeping her safe and is the best way to raise awareness among those who spend time around her. Thanks to each of you for embracing it as another aspect of education.
As you’re aware from your records, Cate has multiple life-threatening allergies (eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts) and a somewhat less severe allergy to sesame seeds. Lately, we’ve been working on giving her more responsibility for protecting herself and avoiding situations where she might risk an allergic reaction.
The way we’ve chosen to do that is to give her what we call “Food Rules” that she never breaks. Cate’s “Food Rules” are in effect every moment of her day, including her school day:
- She doesn’t eat any food other than what she brings it from home.
- If she’s at a party (in or out of school) she doesn’t eat any food there unless one of her parents is present and can assist with interpreting the labels.
- She doesn’t touch any food outside of her home unless:
- It has a label listing all ingredients in accordance with FALCPA and
- The ingredient list does not include eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or sesame seeds and
- If the label states the risk of cross-contamination, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, or sesame seeds are not among the allergens listed.
Because she has so many food allergies, we have taught Cate to view any food (other than the food we pack for her) as a potential threat to her. To some, this might sound extreme; to us, it is peace of mind. As she gets older, we hope to be able to relax some these rules, but for an 8 year old, having a set of rules related to food that she never breaks is the best way to keep her safe – especially when she’s away from us at school, camp, or other extra-curricular activity.
Cate’s Food Rules will impact what she is able to participate in while at school. To help us manage her allergies, we would like to ask the following:
- For craft projects, games or activities, we respectfully request that you do NOT use food.
- If there is a special activity where the teacher insists on using food (such as gluing noodles to an art project), please allow Cate and me to read the label ahead of time.
- If upon the reading the label, Cate or I feel the food either (a) poses a risk to her or (b) has the potential to confuse her about what is or isn’t OK with regard to food, she will ask to be excused from touching the food. She could possibly still do the activity, as long as she looks on as another student touches the food.
- If any food without an ingredient label is presented in the classroom environment, Cate will “opt out” of the activity.
- If Cate tells you that she uncomfortable touching food in the classroom, please respect her attempts to protect herself and resist the urge to talk her into feeling safe and touching the food. Please know that Cate has our permission to refuse to touch any and all food that shows up in the classroom.
We are very sensitive to the rights of others and try not to restrict any else’s freedom by imposing Cate’s Food Rules on them. The way we’ll be doing that from now on is by making sure that Cate knows the rules for keeping herself safe so that even when she finds herself in a situation where she encounters food that she’s allergic to, or has a fear that she might be allergic to it, she knows the best way to avoid any kind of reaction. While we never would have wished for our child to have food allergies, the bright side of it is that she has become a very responsible girl at a very young age. We are very proud of her, and we fully support and applaud her efforts to follow her food rules and keep herself safe.
I know each of you have very full days, but if you’d like to set aside some time to discuss this, please just let me know. Thank you for working with us to help keep food allergic children like Cate safe.
Source: Egg-Free Epicurean LLC 2011, Amy Jones Anichini, Founder & CEO