A child entering Kindergarten is bittersweet for most parents, but for the parents of a food allergic child it can be down right frightening. Just when you have gotten used to living with and managing your child’s food allergies, just when you thought you could breath a little easier; you find yourself faced with a new environment and a whole set of new situations. What others take for granted-bus rides, classroom parties, lunch in the cafeteria-become obstacles for the food allergic child.
I went through this exact situation this past year when my son entered Kindergarten. He has diagnosed life threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, egg, sesame, and whole soy. I was so nervous that we originally enrolled him in half day Kindergarten so that we could avoid dealing with lunch. We reluctantly settled on full day because we felt he needed the extra social time. The school year is coming to an end and while there were some highs and lows, it was overall a great year.
Every parent and food allergic child is different. We all have our own comfort levels. I am writing this article to illustrate what I have done and to give you, the reader, ideas on how you too can proceed with planning for Kindergarten. Remember that not all schools are created equal. Some accommodations may be easier to get then others.
My son was already enrolled in the Integrated preschool program within the elementary school when we started to plan for Kindergarten. Fortunately this gave us a dry run of sorts regarding what to expect. Approximately four to six months before the start of Kindergarten I requested a detailed Individual Health Care Plan. My son already had an emergency care plan which stated what should be done in the event of a reaction. The plan did not however list any school accommodations.
I would be lying if I told you this process was easy for us. We were met with a very resistant school. What helped me most was the support and a letter from our allergist stating that my son had life threatening allergies, what those allergies were, and that his learning environment should be free from his allergens. The letter also stated that he should only eat foods that are from home or clearly labeled, packaged, and free from his allergens. Lastly the letter discussed the dangers of food product “warning labels” like “may contains” or “processed in”, and that the school should strive to make the environment as inclusive as possible.
With this letter I was able to get the school to take me a little bit more seriously. The process of writing and agreeing on our plan took several weeks if not months. We emailed, spoke on the phone, and met with school members. We negotiated back and forth regarding appropriate and doable accommodations. Once we felt good about the plan and started the school year, we found the holes that needed filling. This took us into the first couple months of Kindergarten. We just recently updated our plan (more easily) for first grade.
What’s on our plan?
A plan can be written in a number of ways. Ours happens to be divided into categories.
Bus, classroom, specials rooms Ie: gym, art, music, cafeteria, recess, field trips.
Some things to think about:
Do you want an allergen free classroom?
Do you want birthdays and other celebrations to be food free or inclusive?
Where do you want the epi pens to be stored and how many?
Where will your child sit at lunch?
What sort of cleaning protocols will be followed for the classroom, cafeteria, etc.?
Will children wash their hands and how frequently? Upon arriving at school, after eating, etc.
Will you attend field trips, if not what will the emergency protocol be?
Will classroom and school events be safe and inclusive? Ie: cooking, crafts, field day, school carnivals, etc.
Are staff members epi-pen trained?
These are just some of the basics you should think about. Depending on your child, his/her allergies, and other potential disabilities; you may want an Individual Health Care Plan, a 504 Plan, or an Individualized Education Plan. Click here for an article explaining the difference.
If possible, you should try to meet with the appropriate school members before the start of the school year. It’s best to have a plan in place before school starts not only for you and your child but for the teacher and other parents as well. Decide upon which plan would be best for you and then contact the approrpiate person. It is my belief that all correspondance should be in writing. This leaves a paper trail and a time stamp on your requests should you need it.
When started early, a school plan for food allergies can give you some piece of mind and help alleviate any anxious feelings you may have about your child entering school.
Click here for a resource list and further information on food allergies in schools.