This week I read a news story which showed a mother’s devastating Facebook post explaining that her teenage daughter died after eating cookies that contained peanuts. The mother’s daughter, who had a severe peanut allergy, ate cookies that looked similar to ones deemed “safe” by her parents. Unfortunately, she did not see the packaging nor the ingredients which indicated that the cookies contained peanut butter. After reading this story, it made me think about the seriousness of food allergies in the classroom.
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As a person with food allergies, I know how important it is to be aware of what I consume. I always check labels before buying things from the store. If someone else cooks something, I try to ask the ingredients before I eat it. Although my food allergies tend to only aggravate my eczema, there are many people, including children in our schools who may go into anaphylaxis if they come in contact with foods they are allergic to.
It is so important that we are aware of our students’ food allergies at the beginning of the school year. In addition to this, we have to make sure that the other students in the classroom are aware as well as parents.
Discovering Your Students’ Food Allergies
Here are a few things that you can do at the beginning of the school year to ensure that you are aware of your students’ food allergies.
–Have parents fill out information sheets during Meet and Greet or sometime during the first week of school: My teacher data binder contains a student information sheet which asks parents about food allergies. If a student has allergies, be sure that you know exactly what foods to avoid and what to do in case they come in contact with those foods. Your school nurse will probably tell you about food allergies as well because many students with food allergies have EpiPens on standby in case of emergencies. Be sure that you always keep up-to-date phone numbers for parents whose children have food allergies, again, in case of emergencies.
–Ask your students privately if they have food allergies: It sounds simple enough, right? Students who have food allergies know more about it than you do. Their parents have more than likely given them rules and things to look for before eating anything. I suggest asking them about their food allergies in private first. Later, I’ll explain why it’s important to make it known to the class.
Making Your Students Aware of Food Allergies
It is important that your students know which classmates have food allergies. This helps to make sure that they do not bring those foods around their classmates at lunch time or snack time. At my school, students with severe allergies actually had a reserved spot in the cafeteria, but there are times when students have food outside of the cafeteria. If your students are mindful that their classmates have food allergies, they will hopefully be more careful. Additionally, they can warn other students and adults about bringing certain foods around their classmates with food allergies. To make your students aware of food allergies, you can perhaps have a class meeting to discuss what food allergies are and why it is important to keep certain foods away. Certainly refrain from scaring the kids as well as embarrassing the kids who do have food allergies, but you want them to know that it is truly important.
Making Others Aware of Food Allergies
This is a big one if your school allows students to have treats in the classroom for birthday, class parties, and other special events. Once I am aware of the food allergies in my class, I send a note to all of my parents letting them know which food allergies are present. My letter doesn’t state names due to privacy reasons, but I do make them aware that they cannot send food to the classroom that contain the problematic ingredients. I ask them to always check labels before sending something to school and to ask me before that make or purchase anything just to be on the safe side.
A way to make sure that all students and staff are aware of food allergies in your classroom is by putting a sign near or on your door. I’ve seen teachers put Peanut-Free Zone signs on their classroom doors to be certain to avoid any reactions. This is really a great idea if you have someone with a severe allergy. Sometimes even the residue of foods can trigger someone’s allergy.
Lastly, always be sure to include the students who have food allergies in your sub plans. It’s just another line of defense. Your students already know, but you want to make sure that your substitute teachers know at well. You can never be too safe.
Communicating With Parents of Children With Food Allergies
As I just stated, you can never be too safe when it comes to food allergies. In my classroom, I use the Remind App for general parent communication, but I also use it when we had a birthday party or special treat in the classroom. If a parent brought cupcakes in the morning, I always checked the label first. Even if none of the ingredients were things that my students with allergies needed to avoid, I always took a picture of the label and sent it to each parent to be sure that it was okay. I know it may seem like a lot, but it gave me such peace of mind.
If you aren’t allowed to communicate with parents in this way, you can always just call the parents. Again, you’ll have peace of mind about allowing them to eat something, especially if you aren’t 100 percent sure that they can. I would always make it a point to ask my students with allergies if they had ever eaten certain foods before. While I feel like they said yes because they really wanted the food, I took their word for it but also said that I had to ask their parents to be sure too.
Other Things to Think About With Food Allergies In the Classroom
–Be sure that you have an EpiPen on field trips: As I stated before, most students with severe food allergies with have an EpiPen in the office with the school nurse. Most school require medicines to travel with students on field trips any way. Make sure that you know how to administer the Epi Pen. They come with a practice EpiPen and one or two real ones. Your nurse or school administrator will be able to show you how to use it.
–Unfortunately, there will be foods that students with food allergies can’t eat: Nothing is worse than the sad face of student with food allergies being told that they can’t eat what their classmates are eating. Although this happened only once or twice in my classroom, it can be hard for the student who has been denied a birthday treat or a party treat. I must reiterate that you should be sure that you have made your parents aware of food allergies at the beginning of the school year. I also put reminders about food allergies periodically on my class newsletters. If you are able to afford it, you could also keep some extra snacks just in case someone brings a treat for your class that students with allergies can eat. This ensures that they are always included.
-Don’t be afraid!: Food allergies are not a thing to play with, but don’t freak yourself out about it. Simply make sure you are aware of the students who have food allergies and be mindful about the foods that enter your classroom.
How do you handle food allergies in your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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