In our school district the students move through five schools before graduating. And after an amazing and succesful year at JT’s current school, it will be time for him to move on. As the parent of a child with medical concerns, all of this switching is extremely nerve-wracking. Just as you get comfortable with one school’s staff and policies, it’s time to change. And it feels like starting over. I remember how emotional I was sending JT to kindergarten but I think I may be more of a mess when he leaves. They have been just wonderful in so many ways.
Fortunately, his next school (grades 1-3) has already anticipated some of the needs of the families with food allergies. They offered an “allergy transition day” for students and their parents about 2 weeks ago. We were able to sit with the nurse and the head of the cafeteria staff. The cafeteria manager explained how lunch works and how student’s allergens are entered into their computer system so that the cafeteria staff is constantly aware of which things a child can and can not eat. She also offered for parents to go into the cooler and freezer to read ingredient labels. JT will always bring lunch from home so we passed on that, but it’s good to know that the option is there if he were to ever outgrow some of his allergies (fingers crossed!). We were able to peek at some of their packaged snacks and it turns out that JT can have some of them, so we could make a note in his lunch account specifying that he is ONLY to eat the pre-packaged (crackers, cookies, etc.). That would be a great option if we were ever to forget lunch or if at some point he just starts feeling left out. Next the nurse explained how the children with allergies are generally grouped together so that those teachers can be extra vigilant in their classrooms and that they will be given a safe place to eat snack within those “peanut safe” classrooms. They will continue the policy of having children wipe up hands after lunch and snack with the allergy parents providing the wipes. That is great for us because we provided all the wipes for JT’s class for this entire school year. We were shown where the epi-pens are kept (centrally located in the nurses office) and we talked about the “peanut free” table at lunch. As parents, we are given the option of having our kids sit there or not. JT will remain at the peanut free table. They wrapped it up with some questions and a tour of the cafeteria and nurses office and we were on our way.
Just offering this program is a great first step and offering it before the end of this school year, rather than the beginning of next year is really helpful. No one wants to go into the school year with lots of unanswered questions. The meeting showed that they were aware of the severity of food allergies and that they would be open to discussions and questions regarding them. I was especially happy to see that parents were able to get into the cafeteria to check out ingredients and that children will continue to wash up after eating, also the nurse made clear that she is available to go over concerns with us. I was disappointed with the phrase “peanut safe” and with the location of the epi-pens. I still after the meeting don’t know what “peanut safe” means exactly. It’s not peanut free, which is an actual thing. I guess it means that the teachers are aware of the allergies and extra vigilant. Does that mean the classrooms are also “dairy safe” and “egg safe”? Perhaps “allergy safe” would be a better phrase? My opinion is that “peanut safe” is just a buzzword to keep parents happy, but it didn’t impress us. As far as the epi-pen location goes, I’m actually ok with it while the children are inside the school, it’s the playground I’m worried about. The playground is not very close to the school and I feel like if JT were to have a reaction on the playground it would be too late by the time their fastest running teacher got his medication to him. I’ll be contacting them about that before the end of the school year to see what can be done.
Overall, I think this meeting was a great idea and I appreciate the timing of it. It was also really great to see some of the other families who have severely food allergic children. It’s great to know that there are other families to look to for support if needed.