Navigating the Public School System with a Peanut Allergy
I have a child with a deadly peanut allergy. To say his transition into Public School and lunchtime was rough, would be a huge understatement! At one point it was so bad that I almost pulled him out of school completely. Some of that had to do with a really uncooperative principal, the other had to do with the fact that my school was really inexperienced with nut allergies. At that time they did not understand how serious it was. For anyone who questions how serious they are trust me – they are extremely serious and extremely deadly! Just last month in our town a boy died from biting into a pretzel that had peanut butter in it – he didn’t even swallow! Not taking it seriously can be very hurtful to us as parents. It’s like saying you don’t value our child’s life. I had a member of my family during that hard transition time who told me I could not expect that everyone accommodate my child. It hurt terribly because not only was it incredibly insensitive, but also because I actually can expect they will accommodate him and keep him safe to the best of their abilities!
Here is what I wish I had know before my boy went into school.
- Do not assume they know what they are doing! Do not be afraid to ask questions! Our principal really tried to scare me off from creating a medical plan. Do not be dissuaded when you meet resistance and do not feel guilty! You are your childs advocate and sometimes you have to fight for them! For the most part people want to help and be accommodating, they just might need some education.
- Get in touch with your schools nurse! If you do not have one on location ask the office people for her number. The nurse can help you navigate how your school works with allergies.
- Get to know the office ladies! They can be your best ally and usually are the ones that keep the medication.
- If they still serve Peanut Butter at your school – it can be really dangerous for your child. Our school still serves PB&J sandwiches once a month. At our school about 80% of the kids buy lunch. That is a whole lot of peanut butter! We tried a peanut free table, but the way they ran it was not acceptable in my opinion. In the beginning my son was told he had to eat alone and only kids with peanut allergies were allowed to eat there. Then they allowed 1 friend to eat with him, but basically he was still singled out. We decided that it was worth our time to take him to lunch once a month when they serve the peanut butter. It makes him feel special and we enjoy or lunch dates. If that is not an option ask if there is somewhere safe they can eat out of the lunchroom. This last year my son’s teacher was willing to let him eat in the classroom if needed.
- Have a medical plan in place. Make sure they know what your child’s reaction is like and how to handle the situation. After the boys death in our area the school system seems to be a little more on top of things and the nurse wants to do 504 disability plan this upcoming year. At first I was a little unsure about how I felt his allergy being labeled as “a disability.” But the Nurse explained that with a 504 there are more protections for him. We also get to personalize the plan to his specific situation.
- Don’t forget about Field trips! At our school they serve PB&J on field trip days. Our lunch lady was on top of things and made sure that my sons class took deli sandwiches instead. Talk to the nurse and the lunch lady and see if that can be arranged. One of the benefits of the 504 plan is that you can require them to provide an alternative for your child’s class on field trips.
- Probably the most important link in keeping your child safe is their teacher. At the beginning of each year I type out a letter explaining his allergy, his reaction, and how to treat him. Here is a sample letter:
You can download the letter as a Microsoft word file and insert your own information in. I also have 2 different peanut free signs that you can download and print. I recommend hard lamination and then you can keep reusing the same sign over and over each year.
Things have definitely gotten better in our school as they have become more educated about allergies and unfortunately because allergies continue to become more prevalent. Don’t be afraid to be your child’s advocate, but remember if you are nice and firm you will get a lot farther than if you are demanding and unreasonable. It also never hurts to take cookies to show your appreciation when everything is in place! I would love to hear in the comments any suggestions or ideas you may have found that has worked in your school!
Want to keep up with us at Over the Big Moon….click here to learn how to subscribe!