Keeping students safe at schoolOne out of 13 children in the United States suffers from a food allergy, according to the organization FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), and the majority of fatalities resulting from food allergy reactions among this group happen in school.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
One out of 13 children in the United States suffers from a food allergy, according to the organization FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), and the majority of fatalities resulting from food allergy reactions among this group happen in school.
Now that her son Danny, 7, is enrolled at Wilder Elementary School in Grand Forks, Stephanie Suedel works with school officials to ensure that her son’s health is safeguarded.
“I think the schools are doing a good job” helping children with food allergies, she said. “In the last six years, there has been a shift in the way things are being handled.”
A district-wide, “comprehensive” policy has been written that spells out the role of the principal, teacher, school nurse and parent concerning the care of children with asthma and allergies, she said.
The child’s doctor is involved in writing the “individual health plan” that outlines what level of restriction is required, she said. The doctor prescribes “what to do when, depending on the symptoms and how fast they’re happening.”
The policy, first written in 2011, was updated this fall, said Julie Zikmund, registered dietician with Grand Forks Public Schools.
“It’s very much a team approach,” she said, “involving paraprofessionals, teachers, secretaries, school nurses and principals.”
The individual health plan, sometimes called a 504 plan, is “a general communication tool between the school and the parents.”
There are 380 special diets district-wide, she said. “The USDA requires us to have a physician order to make a menu modification.”
Special diets “run the gamut from lactose intolerance to kiddoes who have air-born nut allergy,” she said.
Grand Forks public schools are “peanut restricted,” Zikmund said. She and other staff members examine labels to weed out products with peanuts or tree nuts as ingredients.
“One of the hardest things to find right now is a granola bar that’s made in a facility with equipment that doesn’t come into contact with peanuts or tree nuts,” she said.
As food allergies have become more “significant,” the school district has changed, she said. “Twenty years ago, we didn’t see peanut allergies like we see (them) now… We’re working to make the school environment as a safe as possible.”
Not everyone realizes how serious food allergies are, she said.
“Some may think it’s a bunch of malarkey, until they see what can happen. They tend to underestimate (the threat), but children have died as a result — thank goodness, not here.”
Suedel is pleased with the way Wilder staff members have worked on behalf of her son.
“The school has been amazing in accommodating his allergies,” she said. “I’ve had nothing but awesome experiences with school staff. We work together.”
Every year, she meets with a nutritionist to go through menu items and decide what he can or cannot. When necessary, Danny will be given at least one option to substitute for a food he can’t eat.
“It’s discreetly handled,” she said. “I appreciate that. I think there should be a level of anonymity.”
As a family, “you worry a tiny bit too: are they going to get picked on because they’re different? You worry people are not going to follow through,” she said. “So far, the school has been amazing.”
It helps that Wilder is a small school, she said. “Everyone knows everyone and they look out for each other.”
But it’s not easy for a parent who has special concerns.
“It’s hard to let go. As a parent, you must really be a good planner and work cooperatively with other team members,” she said. “It’s definitely a team effort to keep him safe when I’m not there.”
Knudson covers health and family. Call her at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572 ext.1107 or email email@example.com.