Life with Food Allergies: Unsupportive School Environment

We have been blessed thus far to have a very supportive school environment for my son’s food allergies.  I have shared a few of our experiences here before.  The interesting thing is I think my son is one of the first anaphylactic students they have had, so it has been somewhat of a learning curve for them.  At the center of the school environment, though, is love and care for each student.  That makes a big difference!

What I Wish I Knew….

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There are various options when dealing with an unsupportive school environment toward food allergies.  Educate the school, take much of the work on yourself, know your rights, and have other options.

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The first step in addressing food allergies at school is educating others.  Let’s assume you’ve done all the educating and have done so patiently and kindly.  For some reason, the school is being unsupportive of your child’s needs.  What do you do then?  Well, there are a couple of avenues you can take on this sticky issue.

When Your School is Unsupportive of Food Allergies

  1. You can go the legal route.  Children with food allergies are included under the American with Disabilities Act.  If your school receives any public funding (be sure to check because many private schools even receive some public funding), they must comply to the law, although the law is the same for all schools.  Your child is legally protected and they must comply.  Personally, I would hate to have pull out the legal weapon.  That certainly doesn’t get things started off on the right foot, but know your rights and use them if you must.
  2. Although I listed your legal rights first, let’s assume that going that route is a last resort.  Offer to do most of the up-front leg work yourself.  While there is a certain amount of “care” the school must do for you child depending upon their specific needs (i.e., peanut-free school, food allergy lunch table, etc.), there are things that you can do as well to take the work load off of them.  There are a few things that I do on my end so that I don’t have to depend on the school to do them.  First, I schedule a meeting with the teacher and any other staff before the 1st day of school that is convenient for their schedule to go over all the details of my son’s needs.  Second, I check to make sure his medication on file is up-to-date.  You may have to provide new medication at the beginning of every year.  My son’s medication is left at school and I update it as needed.  Third, I write a letter to each family in my son’s class describing his needs and what I ask of them, the school, and his classmates.  I invite them to contact me with any questions or concerns.  You will need to get approval from your teacher and administrators for this letter.  Forth, I conduct a meeting with the lunchroom staff to train them on keeping a safe food allergy environment during lunch.  You may need to provide and post proper lunchroom procedures.  Finally, I check in periodically throughout the year to make sure everything is running smoothly.
  3. I recommend becoming somewhat of a nuisance at the school.  Hover, if you must, over your child until they have a clear understanding of your child’s needs and you feel comfortable leaving your child in the care of the school.  This will certainly make them feel uncomfortable and more likely to comply.
  4. Do surprise visits to the school.  I highly recommend this route if you have any concerns.  Hopefully, you will not be hindered to do so, but please try to be as undisruptive as possible.  It will go much smoother for everyone.
  5. Let’s assume you have done all the above, including the legal route, and the school environment is still unsupportive.  They may, because of the law, be forced into compliance, but how does this manifest itself within the social realm of the school?  Is your child bullied by other students? Does the teacher(s) pick on your child? Does your child feel lonely and isolated?  There have been some high profile stories of a hostile, yet compliant, school environment in recent years.  If any of these things happen, I have one final suggestion.  You may want to consider removing your child from that school.  Of course, this is not going to be an option for everyone because of the resources available to you.  But if you’re able, consider placing your child in a different school that is more supportive or homeschooling.  The latter route is what my family will take if my son ever has problems at school that cannot be resolved, and that not goes for any reason, not just health.  Homeschooling, in general, has been gaining much strength in recent years and there are many resources out there for the family choosing to educate their child themselves.

I sincerely hope that none of you have experienced a school environment that has been so unsupportive that you’ve had to reprimand the school with legal action or remove your child from the school entirely.  If you have, would you mind sharing your story with us?

What have you experienced with an unsupportive school environment? What tips do you have to offer others struggling with this food allergy issue?

If you’ve missed any of the posts in this series, simply click on Life with Food Allergies.  Next week, we’ll cover a very emotional aspect of our food allergy journeys, particularly when it is our child who suffers.  That is, wishing it was us suffering instead of our child.  I hope you’ll return again next week.  And please, share The Willing Cook with others who may be traveling along their very own food allergy journey.  We can all use every bit of support, education, and recipes we can get.  Thank you!

Shared at Allergy-Free Wednesdays.

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