G.M. asks from Strongsville, OH on January 27, 2009
Peanut/nut Allergy - Seeking Ideas for School
My oldest child is 7 yrs old and in 1st grade. He is severly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. The school he attends is not a peanut free school. I am looking for suggestions on how I can help him be safer in his school. Currently he is the only one in 1st grade with this allergy. They do not have a designated nut free table in the cafeteria, they serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday as an alternative for those buying lunch. Anyone else been in my shoes? How did you get the school to take you seriously?
B.R. answers from Columbus on January 28, 2009
I have successsfully gotten our local school district to adopt an official food allergy policy, one of the few in Columbus that actually has one in place. But, it was only after (or really, during the process of) getting a Section 504 plan. Here's what you do: Contact the special education department in writing, asking for a Section 504 plan eligibility assessment. Because life threatening food allergy qualifies as a disability (it significantly limits the life function of breathing, taking care of oneself, etc) they must give your child a Section 504 plan of medically based accommodations. Don't let them BS you into thinking 504 plans are only for educationally based accommodations--they're not. Section 504 plans make them accountable to a federal civil rights law, and serious violations can put their federal funding in jeopardy. The idea of the plan is to give your child equal access to all educational services. (this includes busing, gym, etc) They are obliged to keep food allergens our of your child's learning environment, but they may not be obliged to keep them out of the cafeteria, although they should be willing to offer a peanut free table. You can contact the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Diabilities for more information about the Section 504 process (800) 374-2806. They can put you into contact with a parent mentor who should be able to help you (although some parent mentors are employed by school districts...) I can send you tons of more detailed information and links to helpful sites. I've got example letters, example 504 plans, etc. Also, they are required under the ADA (another federal law) to accommodate your child's condition, but Sec 504 has more teeth.
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M.R. answers from Columbus on January 28, 2009
You can advocate for your son using section 504 of the rehabilitation act and the ADA, if the school officials try to suggest the "educational" idea, tell them that you are aware that there is such a stipulation under IDEA, but you are not asking for a special education plan, you are asking for an accommodation plan for a disability, the confusion comes in because some children get educational plans under section 504 of the rehabilitation act, but that does not mean that all 504 plans are educational; children with diabetes and epilepsy also have 504 plans, and your school nurse will be instrumental in helping you set it up, she should have done this before on many occasions.
It is a common ploy of school district personnel to pretend that you are the first person to ever ask for something, and make you waste your time informing them of what they already know, it just buys them time while they don't have to do anything. Don't fall for it, if you get someone who fains ignorance, go over their head.
When you ask the district (in writing, because it did not happen if if did not happen in writing) for a 504 plan, they are required to send you a copy of your rights, and to schedule a meeting or tell you in writing why they refuse, insist in your first written request that they send you you a copy of your rights and respond in writing with in a reasonable number of days, which is usually defined as ten school days. Tell them that you expect it.
Once you have a meeting to write his plan, you should insist that the school create a peanut free table in the cafeteria for your son to sit at with his friends or anyone else who wants to sit there, who will be required to not bring peanut products to that table. You should police this closely and be sure that the peanut free table does not become the disciplinary placement too, as often becomes the case once established.
Just a warning, you might find the kids who are being kept from recess because of behavior eating with your son everyday, or worse yet, if there is a disciplinary placement at your school, they will often seat those children at the table to keep them under control, so come to school on a weekly basis to have lunch and make these different days of the week. But, you will also find that his friends will readily accept the "no peanut" restriction and forgo peanut butter sandwiches and cookies to sit with him on a daily basis, and will remind their Moms not to pack it so that they can sit with their friend, my daughter reminds me daily not to pack any peanuts. They will also be helpful when it is their turn to bring birthday treats, and will insist that they not contain peanuts. Not that you should depend on it, but you will be surprised at how accepting and diligent the other children will be once they know about it.
At our school, we have a child with such an allergy and his room also has a sign on it that says "peanut free zone." and our cafeteria has replaced peanut butter sandwiches with cheese. It can be done.
Remember: write instead of talking, and if a school official calls you and says that they would rather just talk, then talk, and then send them an email confirming everything they said and note that you will assume that you are correct in your confirmation unless they send you a written correction. They will get the idea that you are serious.
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D.K. answers from Indianapolis on January 28, 2009
Don't know if you've given the school a letter from his doctor, but I'd CERTAINLY recommed it. AND.....you need to give a copy to the school nurse. Make SURE you indicate the extent of the allery. i.e. if he ingests, gets close to, etc. and what his reactions are.
In addition, I KNOW for a fact that MANY allergies are due to nutritional deficiencies or toxicities. MANY time, a change in diet can lessen the reactions or take care of them altogether. Might want to see a natural medicine doctor who specializes in allergies and asthma. There is one here in Fishers. Not sure where you live.
K.E. answers from Columbus on February 02, 2009
My daughter is in 3rd grade. When she started school we discussed with the principal and her teacher that she had a severe peanut allergy. I made up a list of "safe" snacks which the teacher sent home with all the students. Whenever there was a questionable snack, she would call me to discuss whether or not Grace could have it. The teachers then pass this along each year and discuss it at open house.
When she went into first grade, we met with the principal again along with the school nurse and her teacher to come up with a plan for lunches. She has her own table with a sign that says "Peanut Free." There are also a list of students who are allowed to sit with her...names that I provided the principal. These are friends and classmates whose parents I have talked with so that they understand what they can and cannot have to eat at her table. The custodian at the school is also aware of her allergy and cleans the table with a separate towel.
We provide the school with three epipens. One for the cafeteria, one for the office and one for the classroom. The school nurse trained all teachers on how to use it. Grace does not carry one herself, as I still think she's a bit young for that. However, at some point (Jr. High maybe) she will.
Although you can demand that the school take action, I would start by just talking with the principal. I've found the school personnel to be very helpful. Have we had any issues? Yes, but we've been able to work through most everything. I've also found that Grace's friends are great at looking out for her as well.
Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions.
D.T. answers from Muncie on January 27, 2009
Make sure he has a eppi pen and learns to carry it with him at all times, especially to lunch. Does he wear an alert bracelet? You can try getting him one. Go straight to the principal, have a letter with you explaining your son's allergy and that he is their responcibility for the hours that he is on their campus(getting a lawyer in on this if you can could be a good thing, could get them to take you more seriously). Insist he/she and your son's teacher sign it, let the school keep a photocopy of it for their files and you keep the original. If something happens, God forbid, you will have documentation that the school knew and failed in their job.
J.C. answers from Cincinnati on January 28, 2009
I was a teacher to a 2nd grader who had severe allergies to wheat, peanut butter, and a list of many other things. We, too, were not a peanut free school. HIs parents and I allowed him to eat in the classroom with a buddy, and sometimes, they came and ate with him. Not only was his peanut allergy severe, but he was not able to smell certain foods, either. After a number of meetings with the school principal and school nurse, there was a designated table set aside for him at lunch when he was able to enter the cafeteria. My advice to you is to meet with the principal and school nurse. A table MUST be set aside for your child and some of his friends who do NOT have any nut related products for lunch. My school nurse was wonderful. She even came to the class and gave talks about food allergies to help all of the students undertsand what was going on with my student. They were very accepting and knew who could eat lunch with him on a given day. She also did followups. The cafeteria staff was also aware and very helpful. I hope that your child wouldn't have to eat in the classroom, just becasue of the lack of socialization and being singled out.I suggest this as a last resort. Just be assertive with your principal and constantly remind them of the severity of your child's allergy. I don't believe the school has to be peanut free, however, all principals believe in the safety and best interst of the children, first and foremost. Asking for a peanut free table and getting other school personnel involved should never be an issue. If their is a nurse, call her and discuss the matter with her before discussing with the principal. She may also have suggestions for you and handle the situation with the cafeteria, as did my nurse at school. Good luck!
D.T. answers from Indianapolis on January 28, 2009
By law, they MUST accomodate his disability (it's considered a medicaal disability). That means his teacher and nurse must know how to react in an emergency - they must learn how to use the epi pen. He has the right to carry an epi pen himself and also have one with the teacher and office. He has rights, but that doesn't mean the whole school needs to change. He has the right to eat lunch safely. Many kids in this situation eat lunch in the nurses office, or in a room somewhat near the cafeteria.
Know your legal rights (federal laws), think of a few solutions and then approach the principal with a well-thought out plan. Anticipate the "but we can't do that" arguements and think of solutions before you go.
C.W. answers from Cincinnati on January 28, 2009
We have a few children at our school who have peanut alleries. I can understand your concern. The little boy sat at a table that had been used in the first shift of lunches and he broke out in seconds and had trouble breathing. They have an injectable pen to use when he has attacks but sill had to send him to the hospital party because the Secretary who was working was scared to give him the injection. Since I am diabetic and give myself 4 shots a day, I offered but since I am not on staff if he would have had a reation yo yhr shot I could have been sued so they would not let mehelp him. In my opinion and the paramedics opinion if she would have given the shot right away he would not have needed to go to the hospital. I wonder if you provided sanitary wipes or the spray bottles of clorox to wipe the table if it would help. Send a letter to the principal and the board of education with your concerns and I would get a letter from the doctor explaiing the seriousness of this issue. They must take care of all issues of children with special needs and this is something that can be taken care of easily. I would suggest who ever monitors the lunchroom at the begining before any atudents enter. Wipe down a table put a sign on it no Peanuts are permited or something such and make sure no children are there but yours and any others who have a problem. This boy at our school can break out by touching the others lunch tray, the table, or thechild'd hand. Anything that can be touched after eating a peanut butter sandwich with one's hands. I feel for you. If they repeatedly ignore your written letters then call the local TV station and have them do a report on how serious this issue can be and what's happeing or rather not happening in your school about the matter. Remember President Carter was allergic to peanuts and didn't know for years and almost died. They had a peanut farm and his mother sent peanuts in his lunch daily.
I feel for you. Keep fighting. Is this a public or private school.