School will be starting here in a little over two weeks. In preparation of that I met with Caleb’s first grade teacher this morning just to introduce ourselves and talk about his food allergies, and to get to know her. It is always a bit nerve-racking getting ready for school, getting all the paperwork updated and ready, and buying supplies. The hardest part for me is broaching the subject of accommodations for my allergic child, wanting to do everything in order to keep him safe, while not inconveniencing the other parents. My son is highly reactive to peanuts, and is showing smaller reactions to his other allergies. Should I ask for the classroom to exclude everything he can’t eat? Is that fair to everyone else? I think the best approach is to be pro-active in the process, while also being reasonable in the accommodations. Caleb will not be in harm if another child eats an Oreo, even though he is allergic to canola oil, nor will he react if a child eats bread, even though he is allergic to yeast. If peanuts or tree nuts are in the classroom, they pose a real risk, of cross-contaminating surfaces with their oil or dust, and he has also shown severe reactions to these- it is reasonable for me to ask these not to be allowed in the classroom. We are lucky that our school is already peanut/tree-nut aware and they ask that it is not used nor sent in. Dairy products are trickier to sort for me. Cheese, milk and yogurt are the standard lunch fare for many students. Caleb won’t react if another person is eating yogurt, or cheese, or drinking milk; however if milk is spilled on him, that may cause a reaction. I think I worry more about the ‘dried’ powder forms of milk and cheese- like in Smartfood Cheddar Popcorn, or cheddar Goldfish crackers that get smashed into the carpet, becoming essentially airborne, and therefore could get into his eyes, nose, lungs, and cause a reaction. I want him to be kept safe, while not being a burden to others.
I had compiled a “safe-snack list” for his teacher to use for the community snack guide, as stipulated in Caleb’s 504 plan. We began talking about doing the classroom “community” snack verses doing individual snacks. What we came up with was to try using a safe snack list, as a guide, and allow parents to do individual snacks working off of the list. This would ensure that non-peanut/tree-nut items would be brought into the classroom, and still allow some individual choices to be made by the student and parent. We did discuss that it should be stated if there is a problem with parents sending in unsafe food products [say crackers with peanut butter for example] that the classroom would revert to doing a community snack in order to keep everyone safe.
The second thing I wanted to ask his teacher about were her thoughts on school celebrations, in particular, the practice of many parents who send in cupcakes on their child’s birthday for the class.
I understand the desire to share your joy about your little angel’s special day with the world, but here is my viewpoint about how it plays out. If a classroom has 25 kids, and 20 of them have birthdays throughout the school year, that translates to 20 days that my child is excluded from a classroom activity, along with the other diabetic and food allergic children in the classroom. So for every school day of an entire month of the school year, my child gets excluded. This practice also effects those whose religion doesn’t celebrate birthdays, those whose parents work, or don’t have the time or money to bring cupcakes into school, and those who have weight concerns.
Loudon County Public School District has a food allergy policy that I pray becomes a national standard of care for all schools. In it they have compiled six pages worth of ideas for food free celebrations [see pages 26-31]. My son’s teacher was very excited about these, and loves the idea of doing food free celebrations, because they are a healthier alternative, that fit well with our wellness goals, encouraging healthy lifestyles and choices! I literally had tears of joy when she told me that she liked the idea, and would be willing to do that in the classroom! I really look forward to hearing back from her later this year about how the other parents and children have responded to this. I hope they are as supportive and excited about it as I am. I am thrilled and must say that my first impression of Caleb’s teacher for this year, is to say she is wonderful!