School Beat: Making School Safe for Kids with Severe Allergies

by Jessica Martines on April 26, 2007

My son, Nicholas, started kindergarten in the San Francisco Public Unified School District in the fall of 2005. Like most parents, I was overwhelmed by the process of choosing a school and then slightly terrified when school began. There was also the issue my son deals with on a daily basis: severe food allergies, many of which are yet to be identified.

On the first day of school we arrived with medications and signed medical forms. I met with his teachers and afterschool caregivers, but I wasn’t sure they understood the severity of the situation. On the second day of school he began having allergic reactions. I was convinced he was going to be severely allergic to this new environment, and we would have to pull him out.

Luckily, that didn’t happen. With a few adjustments to his medications and the cooperation of the McKinley school staff and district, Nicholas has adapted to his new environment and he loves going to school. Together we’ve made his school environment safe and healthy where he is free to concentrate on learning and having fun.

If you are a parent or caregiver dealing with a child’s severe allergies, you already know it takes a lot of time and management skills to keep things under control. But the school staff and district officials are here to work with you. Our school’s nurse, Lisa Vasquez, took Nicholas’ complete medical history, and documented the different types of allergic reactions he’s had. Later, she met with the entire staff of the school and the afterschool program to show them an EpiPen video that instructs how and when to use this lifesaving device. Every adult staff member has been personally introduced to our son and his picture is posted near the teachers’ mailboxes.

Food allergies are a very serious issue for us and we’ve had to address this in varied ways. For example, Nicholas’ teachers sent home a notice at the beginning of the school year asking students not to bring nuts or eggs in their lunches, and to be aware of food allergies when bringing food for the class to share. We keep a handy box of Graham crackers in his classroom for those occasions when Nicholas cannot share food brought for the entire class.

We also worked with the health and nutrition department so Nicholas could eat a school lunch once a week. That way, he gets to feel like a part of the group and be like all the other kids. We picked a school lunch he could eat safely, and it was delivered once a week in a specially marked container. This particular accommodation made school lunch available, safe, and special for our child.

Field trips are another area where anxiety kicks into high gear. We have a MedicAlert bracelet for Nicholas to wear when he goes on field trips with his class. The teachers are always mindful to inform us of where they are going and the environment they will be in. Whenever possible, his father and I have made it a point to accompany the class on these trips to help alleviate any stress the teacher may have as well.

There are many, many other things you can do to keep allergic children safe in school and elsewhere when they are away from their parents. The Internet is an endless source of information. Many sites have support groups and chat logs that can be helpful when you are looking for a solution to a particular problem. Believe me, there is always someone out there who has been there before you and come up with some creative ideas.

I created a complete medical information sheet with doctors’ names and numbers that I can print out whenever Nicholas is going off with someone new or visiting a friend’s house. We’ve asked another school family to be our emergency contact in case of a catastrophic event and we’ve given them everything they would need should they reach Nicholas first.

It’s also important to factor into your budget the financial elements of taking care of an allergic child. Co-payments, emergency room visits, medications, lotions, etc. will tap you out. The good news is that these are likely to be only temporary expenses. Nicholas has already outgrown many of his allergies. Moreover, we now know which allergens to stay away from and what is a true emergency requiring a doctor’s care.

When Nicholas started school two years ago, I was amazed that a school district as large as San Francisco’s hadn’t had more exposure to severely allergic kids and wasn’t very confident in the school’s ability to accommodate my son. Working together with the school staff and district has been a rewarding experience, and I know that every day, Nicholas is safe, well cared for, and learning.
Resources
SFUSD Student Nutrition Services
841 Ellis St
SF CA
415-749-3604

www.allergykids.com

This is a site dedicated to universal food allergy awareness. The have
letters to download to be given to teachers, parents, etc. They also
sell handy products that help alert others to a food allergy.

www.medicalert.com

To purchase and manage your medicalert bracelet.

Parents Place
2150 Post St
SF CA 94115

415-359-2454

parentsplacesf@jfcs.org

They have a great workshop called “Parenting a Child with Asthma and
Allergies” that deals with the emotional side of raising a child with
these medical conditions.

Jessica Martines is the parent of Nicholas who attends McKinley Elementary School. She can be reached at jessica@newharbinger.com.

School Beat Note: Parent Advisory Council Accepting Applications

The Parent Advisory Council to the San Francisco Board of Education is now accepting applications for the two-year term that begins this July. Please encourage parents/guardians you think would be good candidates for the PAC to apply! The deadline is Friday, May 4th.

Applications in English, Spanish and Chinese are available at the PAC’s web page – go to www.sfusd.edu, find the Parents & Students tab, and scroll down to Parent Advisory Council. You can also contact us at pac@sfusd.edu or call (415) 263-0308.

The PAC’s mission is to ensure that parent voices are included in Board of Education policy discussions. The PAC actively reaches out to parents and caregivers to hear parent concerns, and communicates directly with school board commissioners, SFUSD staff, and community partners to represent issues important to families in our public schools. The PAC strives to ensure that its membership reflects the economic, geographic, and cultural diversity of our city’s public schools; it also places a high priority on reaching out to communities that historically have not been involved in shaping education policy.

PAC members are all volunteers, appointed by the Board of Education for a two year term. PAC members do not need to be fluent in English! To be eligible for appointment to the PAC, you must be the parent or guardian of a student who will be enrolled in a SFUSD school (including CDCs) from this August through June 2009.

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