Are you Afraid of Back to School?


This is an older post from 2013 but helpful for all those gearing up for back-to-school or sending their allergic child to school for the first time.  Can I start with a big hug for you allergy moms and dads out there as I know firsthand the fears and stresses of sending your little ones with severe allergies off to school.

Today’s Parent  magazine featured an article entitled  Are Schools Doing Enough?  Have a read and then come back here for my 2 cents worth!

My Two Cents:

As an allergy mom I request the following accommodations from my child’s school that I think are reasonable and fair…

1. Supervision while eating.

Did you know that many schools in Peel region have only one adult supervising 4-6 classrooms over the lunch hour. This means children are left unsupervised for the majority of the time. As a teacher with the board, I personally witnessed children vomiting, standing on tables and running around when teachers were not present. It is not safe for any young child not just those with life threatening food allergies to be unsupervised while eating.  We need to advocate for better lunch time supervision and ideally I would love to see a designated area for eating rather than food in the classroom.

2. Proper cleaning.

I requested that the desks and chairs be properly wiped and floors swept after the children eat in the classroom. They eat 3 times per day in the classroom: at lunch and 2 snack times. I was told that it is NOT the teacher’s job nor the custodians to clean up after the children and that if I wanted this done I would have to come in and do it myself (WHICH I ACTUALLY DID FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE SCHOOL YEAR!).  I quickly realized  that this was not reasonable or sustainable as there would be times when I could not come in due to work, illness or having to care for my other child home sick for example). I quickly realized that l needed someone in the school to be responsible for this. The decision was made to have the children clean up after themselves with wipes. I was not super happy with this decision at the time but it was better than nothing. I have seen cheese spread into the carpets following a food fight in the class room (back to the lack of supervision)  and was concerned that my child would have to sit on that carpet during circle time with her life-threatening dairy allergy.  It is not easy having a room filled with your child’s allergens and knowing the risk that could come to him/her as a result.

3. Safe arts and craft materials.

Allergens can be in the ingredients of common arts and crafts materials (playdough for example, contains wheat).   Sometimes recycled food containers are used for building and crafts. I have asked to be notified by the teacher when new craft materials are going to be used so that i can read the ingredients and ensure they are safe.

4. Handwashing.

I requested that children wash their hands after eating to help prevent the risk of cross-contamination. This is very difficult for the school to do however as there are just so many children and some classrooms do not have sinks. This year the children are going to use wipes to wipe their hands. I hope this will be effective.  Most often we want our children to wash our hands before they eat (which yes, I still do!) but for an allergy mom, we really want all those kids to wash their hands again AFTER they eat so as to avoid contaminating other classroom materials with food allergens.  The wipes that we chose for the children to use contain lanolin which is a good choice for removing protein.   Some people do have a lanolin allergy however so something to check for if going this route.

5. Non-food treats or Safe treats.

I advocate for non-food treats wherever possible (i.e., “Pencilgrams” (where children can purchase a pencil and write a note to be sent to a friend -good fundraiser), books donated in honour of birthdays etc. This promotes literacy too!)

On the special occasions and holidays where the school would like a food treat given to children I request:

a) An opportunity to recommend a safe treat for all children in the school that is a food item that comes packaged with ingredient label

b) If a) is not possible, the opportunity to be notified in advance so that I can send a comparable safe treat for my allergic child and other allergic children possibly

I do not understand why schools want to give children homemade treats anyway? There is no quality control, no ingredients listed and you have no idea what the safety or contents are of that treat! I also feel that children have access to a lot of treats and most families are trying to encourage healthy choices. Let’s have celebrations with fruit! When I was teaching, I would read the story “Stone Soup” to the children and we would have vegetable soup to celebrate.

Everyone loves treats and I’m not saying there isn’t a time and a place for them. I also ask parents of non-allergic children to try and imagine one of 2 scenarios:

1. Your child being the only one who doesn’t get the treat. The whole point of treats is to bring happiness and smiles to the children. A 6 year old child being the only one not getting a cupcake is just sad :(

2. Your snack causing the death of another child. We saw the recent allergy death of a 13 year old girl (Natalie Giorgio) this summer from eating a bite of a rice krispie square. My heart breaks for her family and for the family that made the treats. It is heartbreaking that food that is perfectly safe and enjoyable for some can kill others. The rate of allergies has risen from 1-2 % of our population in the early part of this decade to 7.5%!!! These allergies are becoming more and more prevalant! I ask you to imagine if it was your child who all of a sudden was deathly allergic to milk. It is terrifying to send your child to school with yogurt, milk, pizza with cheese and their life-threatening allergen everywhere. Try to put yourself in that mom’s shoes. Thank you!!!!!

What do you think?

What do you request from your child’s school as far as accommodations to keep your child safe?  In the United States there are 504 plans for these kids which recognizes their allergies as disabilities.  I have been trying to advocate for these here in Canada but without success.  The schools and Ministry are not recognizing Anaphylaxis as a disability.  What could be more disabling than the risk of death caused by food that is all around you every day?!    For my child with a life-threatening dairy allergy, the milk, pizza, cheese, and yogurt that her classmates bring to school is a poison.  It is terrifying for her and us to imagine what would happen if she accidentally ingested milk or had a reaction from touching contaminated supplies or furniture.

Share in the comments how you have handled sending your allergic child off to school.  Share your best advice for school safety, communicating with school staff and parents of non-allergic students, etc.   This is a great place to share what works and what doesn’t to help other families who may be feeling afraid about back-to-school.

Thanks for sharing,

Melissa xo

Original Post Date:  August 21, 2013.
Last Update: May 10, 2017.


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