Sunday, October 10, 2010

Take Over Tuesday Guest Blogger Nicole: Schools and Food Allergy Awareness

Nicole Smith is the author of Allie the Allergic Elephant: A Children’s Story of Peanut Allergies and Cody the Allergic Cow: A Children’s Story of Milk Allergies and Chad the Allergic Chipmunk: A Children’s Story of Nut Allergies. She became interested in writing a children’s book on peanut allergies after discovering her son, Morgan, has life threatening peanut allergies.

Nicole was raised on several military bases, but has called Colorado Springs home for many years. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D. C. and went on to work in the field of finance for several years.

She and her husband, Bob, own Allergic Child Publishing Group, the publishing company for Allie, Cody and Chad.

Nicole served as Treasurer for the non-profit organization, Kids With Food Allergies, Inc. and has helped school districts across the United States manage food allergies and create safe environments for food allergic children.

In Colorado, Nicole was the driving force to get Senate Bill 09-226 introduced and passed into law requiring all school districts to have a policy to keep food allergic children safe at school. Two years of meeting with senators, representatives and board members of the department of education culminated in the bill being signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter during Food Allergy Awareness Week in 2009.

Nicole is currently serving on the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) Advocacy Steering Committee to help build a strong nationwide presence for the food allergy community in the public policy arena, and to actively seek to increase federal funding for food allergy research.

What can be done within your school district to raise awareness?

Some schools and school districts have yet to experience their first student with severe food allergies. Other schools have had tragedies of a child dying from a food allergic reaction. In each case, education and awareness is needed. You, being the parent of a food allergic child, are armed with the most important information about your child, allergic reactions and care that is needed. Make sure to share your child’s allergy information and reaction history with your child’s school and district officials. We have found that keeping our son’s allergy information secret is a recipe for disaster. We don’t want him to be known as ‘allergy boy’ but we also don’t want to withhold the information from the people who can help circumvent a reaction.

For those schools with experience with food allergic children, some feel they have all the information they need. The problem with this, we have found, is that not all parents live a life of vigilance around food allergies. For example, other parents may not have a problem with their child touching peanuts, and believe that a severe reaction can occur only if their child ingests the food. Schools can be complacent when the next allergic child enters school, and can’t understand why a different set of rules now apply.

We have found that participation in the school is vitally important. Participating in classroom volunteer projects, school parties and field trips allows you, the parent, to know how frequently food is being used in the classroom. It also gives you the opportunity to get to know the children and especially the teacher. Giving of your time to the school makes for a better partnership when you are asking for extra accommodations and allergy awareness for your child, regardless of whether the law is on our side!

Beyond the school, participation at the district level is even more important. Meeting the school district 504 officer will allow him/her to put a face with your child’s name. Gaining understanding of your school district’s process for creating accommodation plans allows you to get exactly what is needed for your child to be safe. Additionally, if you are willing to assist your school district to better understand food allergies, volunteer on district-wide committees and bring up the topic of food allergies.

I did exactly this several years ago, and was able to get a requirement added to the accreditation process for all schools in our district. The requirement is for every school to have training on 504 plans and health care plans and to receive training on how to respond to students undergoing an allergic reaction. It was a small step toward safety for all food allergic students.

In the spring of 2007, I participated in a Food Allergy Task Force for our school district along with 15 other parents, district administrators, principals, district school nurse and others to create guidelines for our school district’s severely food allergic children. This task force came about because so many parents were attempting to teach their individual school about food allergies and felt they were reinventing the wheel at each school. Some schools in the district had experience, while others had none. We wanted to create a standard set of guidelines and procedures for all schools in the district to follow so that a food allergic child enjoys awareness of food allergies and prevention of allergic reactions regardless of which school he/she attended. It was a tall order!

You can view these guidelines here.

You will see that peanuts and peanut products aren't served in the cafeterias of schools with peanut allergic students if the parents and principal request it. We don't ask other children to not bring in peanuts. Instead we create nut free zones at specific cafeteria tables. The monitoring of a "peanut ban" creates a nightmare for everyone, we felt, and is virtually impossible to guarantee.

We also agreed that while peanuts are a very serious allergy, there are students with equally severe allergies to milk, fish or many other foods. In fact, our school district of 21,000 students had 275 students with life threatening food allergies. It would be impossible to remove all the different foods from the schools without banning food entirely.

There are some school districts that have banned peanuts entirely such as Aspen School District in Colorado. Anaphylaxis can and has still occurred at schools such as this because a child ate a food he assumed was safe, yet other non-food allergic parents don't always completely understand the ingredient label.

We prefer “food allergy aware” to food bans in schools!

If you’d like more information about food allergies and schools, please visit

Nicole can be reached as follows:

425 W. Rockrimmon Blvd, Suite 202

Colorado Springs, CO 80919

Guest Blogger Disclaimer: The information shared by the guest blogger does not represent the opinions and policies of No Nuts For My Peanuts and it's creator. As always seek proper medical attention for any issues, medicine dosage's or questions you have regarding your health and allergies. Always read labels before eating or serving any food to anyone who has food allergies.


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