What a ‘normal school year’ means for food allergy families
Classes are in person, masks are optional (in most places), vaccines are available.
After what seems like an eternity of pandemic parenting, kids are pouring back into their schools with high hopes for a normal school year. But while most parents are breathing sighs of relief, the concept of a “normal school year” brings a whole other level of stress for food allergy families. Sure, the lockdowns were tough. But quarantine and remote learning also meant no cafeterias, no play dates, birthday parties, or holiday events that can lead to allergen exposure. Eating every meal at home gave us a break from the constant vigilance and worry whenever our kids are out in the world. Now, as life begins to resemble the pre-pandemic days, food allergy parents are readjusting to risk all over again. We need to start planning again, studying food labels, and creating new school emergency care plans, all while managing the (ongoing) COVID-19 health protocols as well. Excuse us while we freak out over at the allergy table!
Okay, let’s take a deep breath – in through the nose and out through our newly mask-free mouths. Sending your kid back to school post-pandemic might be frightening. But you are still your kid’s most powerful advocate. Through planning and communication, you can make sure they go back to in-person learning safely.
On the positive side, some COVID-19 changes may actually be helpful. Social distancing can reduce the risk of airborne inhalation. Frequent hand washing, extra cleaning, and separate supplies can protect against residue and touch reactions. Your kid’s school might also be enforcing a “no food-sharing” rule, if they didn’t previously, and restricting birthday and holiday celebrations. Win-win!
On the other hand, there are new concerns. Teachers or lunch monitors may need reminding that: yes, hand sanitizer kills viruses, but no, it does not get rid of allergens. Hand-washing is still a must. Parents may also worry that face masks (required in some school districts and recommended in others) could hide the early signs of a reaction, like swollen lips, when it’s important to take action quickly.
Whatever your kid’s specific needs are, creating a new allergy management plan starts with reaching out to the administration, nurse, and teachers at your kid’s school. Of course, they have a lot on their plates, post-pandemic. But make sure they remember to include food allergies in the plans for the school year. Your pediatrician or allergist can help with forms and medical information. But your personal explanation about what your kid is allergic to, how to prevent exposure, and how to respond to a reaction will have the biggest impact. Then follow up by sharing our Digital Food Allergy Card, so teachers and staff have the information at their fingertips.
Here are some questions to get the conversation started:
- Does the school have a ‘No Nuts’ policy?
- Who will be monitoring kids during snacks or lunchtime?
- Who will be responsible for hand washing before and after eating?
- Will there be “allergy-free” or “includes allergens” desks or tables?
- Who will be cleaning desks and classroom surfaces?
- Who will be trained to recognize an allergic reaction and administer epinephrine or other medication?
- Will medication be kept in the classroom or the nurse’s office?
- How will the administration support teachers as they manage both food allergies and any possible surge-related COVID-19 health protocols?
- How is information about food allergies taught (i.e. age-appropriate books and lessons)?
- What is the policy about letting classmates and other parents know about a kid’s food allergies?
The good news is that the people now have a more finely-tuned awareness of other people’s health concerns. You might get fewer quizzical looks and far more understanding in these post-pandemic times. Also, with a whole “normal” summer under their belt, kids probably got to flex their “refusing snacks from friends” and “reading labels” muscles again. With a little extra guidance from you – like talking through school situations with them in an age appropriate way – your Super Awesome kids will hit the halls, the cafeterias and the playgrounds with confidence, empowered to take control of their allergies and make the safest choices.