Taking her own advice, CT Food Allergy Mom had a meeting with her son’s school to go over his 504 plan. (See earlier posts for discussion about the 504 and why you need it).
Two issues came up during the 504 worth mentioning: “peanut free” tables and buses.
Peanut Free Tables
My son now is in junior high school (boy has time gone by!). I have never however been an advocate for “peanut free” tables, especially since my son is allergic to many more foods than just peanuts. While they may some serve use for younger children who eat in a cafeteria rather than a classroom, it is my opinion that “peanut free” tables may do more harm than good. The biggest dangers of food allergies come from ingesting an allergen either directly or through cross contamination, or by coming in contact with the allergen without ingestion. For our little ones, a “peanut free” table may help, but it by no means creates an island of safety. If anything, it can bring awareness to the allergic child and her peers, and that is of course a good thing.
But I also think that “peanut free” tables may help create more problems than they solve. I haven’t been able to find published statistics on this issue, but anecdotal evidence from parents, friends and other members of the food allergy community suggest that “peanut free” tables are a source for bullying, or as my son’s school calls it, “unkind behavior.” Sitting at that table signals to a child’s peers that they are somehow different and, let’s be honest, children are not always kind to those who are perceived as different.
From a child’s perspective, it can also create a stigma, hurt self esteem and cause anxiety. My son wants no part of the “peanut free” table since he feels that it makes him stand out and makes him feel weird (his word). It also creates an artificial barrier between him and his friends at a time when kids are just figuring out who they are and where they fit in. This type of barrier is exactly why other children with disabilities and challenges are now educated along side their peers, not away from them. It should be no different for children with food allergies. For my son, a self-aware child that has been his own best advocate, the “peanut free” table is not for him. It may or may not be right for your child, but it’s definitely something to talk about. If you think it’s right for your child and your school doesn’t offer this, ask for it. If the “peanut free” table also doesn’t work for your child but you’d like another form of help, ask for that. Remember that the 504 requires an individualized accommodation. Your child is entitled to it.
The second issue that’s worth talking about is allergy safety on buses. At school, my son is surrounded (thankfully) by an army of epinephrine auto-injectors, staff trained to use them, and a pretty stringent school policy regarding food and allergies. All of that changes though when he’s on the bus. There’s nothing to prevent the child in the seat in from of him from opening a bag of salted, roasted peanuts, and without a doctor’s note to self-administer, there’s no epinephrine auto-injector or staff trained to use it on the bus.
Here’s where your 504 plan comes into play, especially for younger children who do not, and probably should not, self-administer epinephrine. Your child must be accommodated in all aspects of public (and many private) education. This includes having the same access where transportation is provided by the school district. The accommodation can come in many forms, from an epinephrine auto-injector trained driver and stock bus auto-injector all the way to an aide that rides the bus with your child who is trained and well-equipped with an epinephrine auto-injector. The 504 plan is supposed to be individualized to meet your child’s needs. If your child needs this kind of accommodation, ask for it. Your child is entitled to it.
It’s Hard, but You Can Do It and Your Child Deserves It
Yes, parenting a child with food allergies can be hard. Asking for things from your school can be intimidating. Make no mistake though that if you don’t ask, it won’t be given, even though you are entitled to it. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant without demanding safe food for your child, so don’t send her off to school without making the same demands for a safe environment. Your child is entitled to it.