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Navigating the Public School System with a Peanut Allergy

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Peanut button

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:

Teacher 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.

No peanut please blue

No peanut please red

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!

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Previous author of Over the Big Moon. I shared my passion for home and family life! I love graphic design, DIY projects, cooking, and working in my garden! My favorite role is taking care of my husband and our 3 amazing and busy boys!

Comments (9)

  • If a child is that allergic maybe a separate lunchroom is in order. For many families who have a limited food budget, peanut butter and milk represents a staple and complete protein. It is unreasonable of you to ask that no child should eat it. Or maybe they should have special schools for children with peanut allergies. Or perhaps you should home school him if it is so dangerous.

    • Limited income obviously makes these situations a little more difficult to navigate but I’m sure that a little extra thoughtfulness and creativity when it comes to making your kids lunch is worth not putting another child’s life in danger. Seems kind of obvious that we don’t risk killing a small child in order to for our kid to eat a sandwich. Try sun butter instead of peanut butter, do a thirty second google search for inexpensive lunches. Hard boiled eggs are both cheap and easy. Surely the life and safety of a small child are worth it.

  • Would you be willing to share the posters in an editable version? I love them but would like to use them for our church nursery. We recently have had two little ones diagnosed with peanut allergy so we are making our entire nursery area peanut free and no longer allowing kids to bring their own snacks as we provide peanut-free options for everyone. Thanks!

  • I just want to tell you how helpful this was to me. We have dealt with my son’s life threatening allergy to ALL nuts for 6 years now. This is his 3rd year in public schools and we are having a really hard time with his teacher. I am going to use some of these suggestions you have listed. This post really motivated me and encouraged me in a time when I feel so alone in this struggle. THANK YOU!!!

  • Thank you for making this beautiful sign. My new student has a peanut allergy so I need this sign to post. His mother said no other teacher ever offered to do this. That is sad.

  • My daughter has this deadly allergy too. When she started school is was the hardest thing I have ever done. She is in private school and we don’t have 504s, but if I was in public, I would do one in a heartbeat. It is your right to protect your child. I used to teach in public and some principals do not take the time or want the paperwork so if you have to, go over their head. My daughter was one of the first at our school and conveying the severity of her allergy was the hardest part. Once they understood, it was a lot easier to navigate. It has not been without its challenges. I have had to remove her from school for different activities. I was called into the admin office at the end of the school year and they told me that the school is going nut-free next year. It was music to my ears. I was hired on to teach last year and I have to say my anxiety has gone way down, but I will never be completely comfortable with the food issues there. I can sense your frustration in this post and know that so many of us peanut/tree nut allergy parents feel exactly the same way. Keep up the good fight and hopefully you will be able to change things for your child. I just want my daughter’s schooling to be “normal” and whatever I can do to make that happen, I will do. A couple of hints that I have done, is that I have a “safe treats” bag in her classroom with her name and picture on it, for any of those days where treats pop up unannounced or the teacher hands something out and secondly, we have multiple epi pens on campus; one in the classroom, one in the P.E. building in the yard, and now one in my classroom too. I want to make sure that it is available to her if she (or any other child) needs it. Blessings to you and hang in there.

  • Our school had a peanut free classroom. Everyone was required to wash hands before entering and no food from home was allowed. The school provided the entire class with a safe snack each day. Not sure how lunch was handled but the classroom was much safer for the child.

  • It may not be as bad as peanuts but gluten free you can also do some of the same things above. I had to work with the school about this a lot. They are great for peanuts but not so much gluten. But the ideas can be used for other food allergies as well.

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