For Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools, the climate has changed in terms of rules, regulations regarding food and the need for safety. Prior to the start of school, informative letters are sent to students and families, explaining the precautions needed for a classroom peer who has a food allergy. Our schools are making great strides to teach our children how the practices of cleanliness and food choices impact everyone in their school community. With guidelines and emergency plans in place, students can focus on their education without worrying.
Clara Chavez is Forsyth County’s District Section 504 Coordinator and Intervention Support Team (IST) Facilitator. She shares, “Through substantial improvements in education, we are now providing and educating our schools with what they need. In school cafeterias, children can order an “allergen- free” lunch, and sit at “peanut-and-nut-free” tables. Notices stating “No Peanuts!” and the reminder of “cleanliness” are visible in our school environment. This message extends to bus drivers, who now have a plan of action in case a child experiences an episode of Anaphylactic Shock.
“Children with food allergies have a hidden disability,” Chavez continues. “It is our responsibility to provide support to our parents and grant them a meeting to determine if their child is eligible to receive Section 504 accommodations.” Section 504 accommodations offer a child who has a disability, including food allergies, the opportunity to meet his or her needs as adequately as those of their non-disabled peers. The Department of Education Office of Civil Rights stipulates that an administrator must review Section 504 Plans at least every three years; Mrs. Chavez reads each student plan to ensure compliance and that a student’s needs are appropriately fulfilled.
“For students with food allergies, we closely review our students’ health information,” writes Brian W. Brookshire, Principal of Old Richmond Elementary School. “For severe cases, we schedule transitional meetings with the classroom teacher and parents at the start of each school year. We openly discuss how to best prevent allergic reactions, as each case is unique and different. The most important element is to openly communicate and continuously monitor the individual student.”
On a state level, lawmakers are discussing the value and importance for schools to be granted funding to stock epinephrine and administer the EpiPen. While schools have plans in place, this bill would eliminate great fear during a life- threatening emergency. Jeff Faullin, Principal at Brunson Elementary School shares, “At the beginning of the year, we schedule a group meeting of all parents with children who have food allergies. It allows them to meet each other and find relief in the knowledge that they are not alone. Last year, one parent told the story of using an EpiPen. Between our parents, teachers and nurses, the story prompted great conversations. Continuous education about our students’ safety increases confidence, especially for our students.”
A few suggestions to help parents approach the topic of food allergies with their children:
- Start using simple terms such as “safe” and “unsafe” foods.
- Explain what may happen if a child with a food allergy is exposed to peanuts or nuts. The experience may frighten your child; therefore, discuss why preventatives are important, and what to expect or do in case of an emergency.
- Some children with food allergies may feel frightened, worried, or self-conscious. The best way to help these children feel comfortable is to be openly friendly.
- An informative family-based website, www.foodallergyfamiliesofthetriad.org., can help families answer their children’s questions.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), one out of 13 children in the United States has a food allergy, totaling 5.9 million children. As recent as October 2013, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided “the first national comprehension guideline for school food and allergy management.” Standing together to fight for children with food allergies in our schools at the state level sends an important message to our lawmakers. Our schools are making great strides; however, with laws, additional steps can be taken to grant a strong means to achieve school safety for our children.
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