By Jayne M. Wesler, Esq.
Allergy awareness has increased significantly over the last decade. The number of students with life-threatening allergies continues to expand. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection team notes that, in recent years, the number of people with food allergies has doubled. At this point, there are approximately two students in every classroom in the United States with an identified food allergy. That is the equivalent of about six million children.
Allergies are actually a disease caused by hypersensitivity of the immune system to substances in the environment that are often harmless to most of the population. Many of the conditions that result from allergies are merely annoying—think hay fever, itchy red eyes, dermatitis—but some reactions are more severe—like anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction to a substance that is benign for most of the human population. The symptoms of anaphylaxis can include red eyes, an itchy rash, sneezing, a runny nose, shortness of breath, or swelling.
Children with life-threatening allergies often have Individual Health Plans (IHP’s), Individual Education Plans (IEP’s), or 504 Plans. These plans detail the types of precautions which school districts must take. Teachers, janitors, and cafeteria workers might all be named as facilitating staff members in these types of individual plans.
School districts and students alike will benefit from having plans in place for children with life-threatening allergies. Having a plan, designating the staff to implement the plan, and practicing any time-sensitive parts of the plan are essential to success. In a case of life-threatening food allergies, “success” is nothing less than saving a child’s life.
Gentle persistence can overcome the resistance of a school district to making a detailed plan. One such case involved a ten-year-old boy in New Jersey who had a potentially fatal allergy to tree nuts and peanuts. The school district and even the school nurse resisted putting specific details into place, asserting that they “already had it covered.” However, after meeting with the pertinent school staff, including the school nurse, and reviewing the boy’s needs and his schedule, we were able to agree to a very detailed plan which included:
1. Peanut-free classroom
2. Peanut-free table in cafeteria
3. Janitors wipe table clean before student’s lunch period
4. Depending on age of students, they should wash hands after lunch or have teacher and aide wipe hands
5. Schedule of delegates who would ensure that the child’s go-bag with epinephrine always stayed with him
6. Three staff members who could act for the nurse if she were in another building or too far away (i.e., out on the playground) to act quickly
7. Emergency plan in case of exposure to allergen
With advance planning, a school-based Valentine’s Day event can be a joyful event for everyone involved.
Advance Planning for Parents:
1. Review your child’s plan now. Make sure it’s up to date. If necessary, have your doctor update an IHP and send it to the school nurse, or put written recommendations in a letter to the school nurse with a copy to the school principal and the director of special services for updates to IHP, 504, or IEP.
2. Contact the specific staff who are responsible for each reasonable accommodation or modification. Give them a copy of the plan. Talk to them about what type of celebration the school or classroom will have. Help them to plan so that your student remains safe.
3. Talk to your child’s teachers to ensure they take the following steps.
Advance Planning for Teachers:
1. Check your students’ IHP’s, 504 Plans, and IEP’s for any modifications you are required to follow.
2. Check with parents to ensure you are not introducing a food or other substance that could harm one of your students.
3. Review your school district’s policies on holiday parties and on food and snacks in the classroom.
4. Contact the school nurse for his or her input.
5. Stay up to date on the most common allergies.
6. Know your responsibility and specific steps to take in case of an allergy emergency. In such an event, minutes count.
The top nine allergens cause the majority of allergic reactions. The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) has identified these top allergens as:
6. Tree Nut
9. Sesame was recently added when President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety Treatment Education and Research Act of 2021 (FASTER Act of 2021).
When planning an event, make sure to review labels. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires food manufacturers to list the presence of any of these allergens. (Since sesame was recently added, food manufacturers have until 2023 to list it, so be cautious and ask questions.).
If you need assistance obtaining an appropriate IHP, 504 Plan, or IEP, please contact us at: Sussan Greenwald & Wesler
Tel. 609.409.3500 Fax 609.409.3505.