What Parents Should Know about Allergies & School

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Local mom and dietician Alexia Beauregard works with families every day that have children with allergies. She knows that families with children with life-threatening allergies often have a lot of of questions about how to ensure their kids safety when school starts. Here are her answers to some of the most common questions about how to keep kids with allergies safe at school!

July 4th is a wonderful holiday for many reasons but it also makes me a little sad. We love summer at my house and it feels like the summer vacation ends almost over night after we celebrate the founding of our nation. Getting your children ready for the school year can be a daunting task; even for “seasoned” parents.  But, if you are the parent of child going to school for the first time who also has food allergies, you may be feeling particularly overwhelmed.

The good news is that with proper planning your child can have a great and safe school year.  Part of that planning process must involve your school.  Your school will not be able to partner with you in the safety of your child if they are not fully informed of your child’s condition.

Allergies and schools

Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), patient and family advocacy groups like FARE and FAACT, and the National Association of School nurses, there are many resources readily available to help parents and schools become educated on how to keep food allergic children safe at school.

South Carolina passed the SAVE act (Safe Access to Vital Epinephrine) which allows schools to keep a supply of epinephrine (epipens) in schools. This life saving medication can be administered in the event of an adverse food reaction or even a reaction to a bee sting or ant bite.  According to the Greenville County Schools website, every school in Greenville County has a school nurse and at least 10 first responders who have been trained in epi-pen administration.

The passage of the SAVE act coupled with the dedication to staff training is a great step towards keeping children safe at school.

What do parents need in place before school starts?

It is important to have medical documentation from your pediatrician or allergist that specifies what foods your child cannot eat, what may happen if your child eats those foods, and how to treat your child in the event of an exposure. Most schools will not be able to make any accommodations without proper documentation from a physician.

Doctor’s offices are always overwhelmed with appointments right before the school year begins. Try to get updated care plans (asthma action plan or emergency care plan) earlier in the summer to avoid the August rush.

Does your child need a 504 plan or an IEP?

An IEP (interdisciplinary education plan) is for a child that requires special education due to very unique learning needs. This plan is for a child who requires specialized instruction in order to meet specific educational goals.

Most children with food allergy require a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is put into place when a child has a condition that is defined as a disability. A disability is defined in the legislation “as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.” A major life activity is defined as “walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, working, or eating.” This plan is for the child that does not require specialized instruction due to very unique learning needs.

In order to establish a 504 plan, parents must meet with the school nurse and the school’s 504 plan administrator or coordinator. Physician documentation must be provided during this meeting if it has not already been provided to the school. A 504 plan is a legally binding contract between the school and the family. It must include details of how the school will provide an appropriate education. This can include details of changes in the classroom, cafeteria, menu substitutions, and any medications that need to be administered during the school day. These plans are only legally binding in schools that accept federal funding.  Private schools that do not receive federal funds are not obliged to make special accommodations if they do not wish to do so.

What about school lunch?

Schools that take part in the USDA school lunch program are obligated to feed all children that buy or receive free or reduced school lunch a nutritionally complete meal.

The dietitian for the county or the cafeteria manager for your school should be able to provide an individualized menu for your child with safe and appropriate substitutions. As a parent, you have the right to ask to read food labels to double check ingredients.

Some schools are better at providing alternative meals than other schools and unfortunately, I have worked with some families who started sending lunch to school when they could not rely on the school. This can put a financial strain on families who struggle to feed themselves and depend on school to provide one or two meals during the week.

If the school your child is attending does not currently have any polices or procedures in place to help food allergic children, the National Association of School Nurses has wonderful resources freely available on their website to help school staff develop plans for food allergy and anaphylaxis management. FARE also has a number of resources available on their website for parents and schools. The CDC published Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs. For ambitious parents that want to read and research, these resources can help them help their school. This can also help parents understand what accommodations a school can make for children with food allergies. Sometimes, parents have unrealistic expectations so it is important to keep an open mind while discussing special accommodations at school.

Sometimes schools do not fulfill their 504 plan obligations or do not take food allergy seriously.  If you feel that your child’s needs are not being met after multiple discussions with your school, you can contact administrative staff at the county level (such as a nurse supervisor). A family can also hire a patient advocate to work with the school or even hire a lawyer.

While food allergies still only affect a small portion of the population, we have a much greater awareness about them and a better appreciation for the fact that they can be life threatening.

With open communication between a family and the school, with proper documentation in place that outlines school expectations and needed accommodations, and with proper planning, school can be a safe place for a child with food allergies.

For further reading

National Association of School Nurses

Centers for Disease Control Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs

Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE)

Kids with Food Allergies

Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team

Greenville County Schools Student Services – Health Services

Do you have tips for preparing for school for a child with allergies?

Meet Alexia Beauregard
Alexia is a local dietitian that specializes in helping children and adults successfully manage food allergy or intolerance and feeding difficulties. She is passionate about helping people on restricted diets bring the joy back to eating. She shares her free time with her husband and their 3 children.



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