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Yes, let’s have food allergy policies everywhere

Submitted by on Tuesday, 21 December 2010 One Comment

There’s egg-free, and then there’s the kind of egg-free that led Big Guy to puke up his pastries despite a donut shop owner’s assurances that he didn’t use egg. It was true as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. He’d neglected to mention that his donuts were “homemade” from a mix that did indeed contain egg.

There’s peanut-free, and then there’s the kind of peanut-free that killed a peanut-allergic girl in Chicago last week after she ate Asian food at a school party. The restaurant had assured her mom repeatedly that there would be no peanut in the food, but apparently there was. Maybe it came from an ingredient cooked in unlabled peanut oil – we need to get over the dangerous misconception that peanut-allergic people universally are not allergic to peanut oil -or maybe it came from cooking equipment that was inadequately cleaned from a peanutty batch of food.

And there are food-allergy policies, such as this excellent one compiled by the American Association of Pediatricians, and then there are “policies” made up on the fly. We’ve done OK with the latter during Big Guy’s three years in public school.  I’ve had only one issue ever, and that was an asthma, not an allergy problem.

I’m wondering, though, if that’s enough.

The Chicago school 13-year-old Katelyn Carlson attended didn’t have a policy either. Neither, apparently, did the district, though all Illinois school soon will be forced to adopt them. The school instead relied on individual students’ plans to decide how to manage each case individually.

I can only imagine the chaos that could create. We’ve worked on the fly at both of Big Guy’s schools, and it’s worked well enough so far, though it was nice to be at the same school for a second year in a row this fall and to not have to start from scratch.

But what about the parents of allergic kids who are unaware of their children’s rights? And what happens when they run into a school administration that just doesn’t take those rights as seriously as the administrations have at both of Big Guy’s schools?

Those children are entitled to protection, too, and if school districts can’t see that then state legislatures need to step in.

Not that legislation is necessarily any guarantee. California state law lets students carry their own asthma inhalers – the requirement was created after a child died of an attack while the inhaler was locked in an office – but Big Guy’s never been allowed to keep his nearby.

I actually agreed with that until recently, when he wound up in the school office after the health tech had left one day. He  proceeded to cough until he threw up because no one recognized his asthma attack for what it was. His inhaler wasn’t locked up, but no one realized he needed it. He’s now trained in what to say if it happens again.

The incident is clear evidence of the importance of having policies, as well as training for all staff. Some will argue that training is too expensive, but I guarantee that a person of average intelligence can learn to administer epinephrine in under a half hour. Throw in a five-minute practice session a month and you’re still at less than 90 minutes a school year. Many teachers would willingly do it to protect their students – even absent such a requirement Big Guy’s kindergarten teacher volunteered to keep his EpiPen and Benadryl in the classroom and to learn how and when to administer them.

I didn’t mind at all spending the time to walk her through that. I don’t mind coordinating with his teachers for every food “event” at school. I don’t mind spending time creating and printing documents outlining the symptoms of anaphylaxis each year.

But, really, should other students have to rely on the luck of having a peanut-allergic classmate whose mom already has taken care of this? And should school districts be willing to face the potential liability if no one has?

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • A tricky conversation that went well | 9to5to9 (author) said:

    [...] 2010 No Comment Big Guy was looking over my shoulder last night as I was writing a post about 13-year-old Katelyn Carlson, the peanut-allergic Chicago girl who died from anaphylaxis after a party at school. He often does [...]