For kids with food allergies, and their parents, a new school year can be worrisome.
A severe life-threatening allergic reaction that can lead to death — a parents’ ultimate fear — doesn’t have to be left to chance. And every year more people discover they have allergies by accidental exposure, a scenario that could be very serious when it comes to children.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), afford these children the right to a 504 plan. According to the USDA, “when in the licensed physician’s assessment, food allergies may result in severe, life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions, the child’s condition would meet the definition of ‘disability’.”
A 504 Plan is a written management plan outlining how the school will address the individual needs of the child, and allow that child to participate safely and equally alongside peers during all normal facets of the school day.
It is never too late or too early to start the process, and there is a local 501c3 non-profit that can help you, Arizona Food Allergy Alliance (AFAA). Education is a key component to a child’s safety at school and that’s why the AFAA provides a FREE training statewide, the Safe @ School training program.
Certainly, the treatment of children with food allergies varies across the state, even classroom to classroom. While some teachers even go as far as to carry an epi-pen in the classroom for their student, this type of scenario is the exception, not the norm. Most often children with food allergies are misunderstood, sometimes bullied or dismissed by peers, parents of peers and even teachers.
It is an attitude hard to fathom because according to AFAA there are 15 million Americans including 6 million children suffering from food allergies. That’s about 2 children in every Arizona classroom.
Early this year a Virginia first-grader died from her peanut allergy while at school. By the time emergency crews arrived, the first-grader was already in cardiac arrest. Four months later, the governor of Virginia signed a bill requiring public schools to possess and administer epinephrine.
Locally, there is a Valley teen that lies in a local care facility working towards rehabilitation after going into a coma from an anaphylactic reaction last spring.
Furthermore, according to AFAA about 1 in 6 food allergic children have a reaction at school, and on a whole, food allergies result in about 6,000 ambulatory care visits for Arizona children, of the 300,000 nationwide (The CDC).
The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Management Act (FAAMA) provides national voluntary guidelines signed into law by President Obama in 2011, set to officially roll out this fall. However, schools are not mandated to enforce them, and they do not require them to stock epinephrine. This is one reason AFAA is working toward legislation to stock epi-pens in Arizona schools.
Parents and caregivers interested in learning more about a 504 Plan or AFAA-led Safe @ School training for their district should visit www.arizonafoodallergy.com online. This, combined with having epinephrine immediately available, helps parents and school officials create the safest environment possible at school.
Lisa Horne is president and founder of Arizona Food Allergy Alliance.