The federal government recently issued its first official guidelines to schools on how to protect our children with food allergies. Personally, I don’t have a child with food allergies, but I know many children who are allergic to foods and how hard it is for these children to maneuver in a world that is not food-allergy friendly. It makes the world they live in threatening and potentially hostile. The voluntary guidelines call on schools to take the initiative to restrict nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions. It also suggests that schools make sure that emergency allergy medicine like EpiPens are available.
In theory, this is fantastic, but what will this mean for our children? Are we over restricting the world we live in and, by doing so, are we giving our kids a false sense of security and putting them more at risk?
There are about 15 states that already have policies in place. Food allergies are so common these days that it makes sense for schools to be more aware and proactive in protecting our children from potentially fatal exposure to foods that could kill them. Recent statistics estimate that 1 in 20 children in the United States have food allergies. That is just astonishing to me.
Some kids grow out of mild food allergies, but more serious allergies can result in anaphylactic shock or even death. Among the foods that trigger more serious reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, milk and shellfish.
Under the new guidelines schools are expected to do the following:
- Identify students who have food allergies.
- Have a plan to prevent exposures and manage any reactions
- Train teachers and faculty how to use medicines like epinephrine injectors
- Plan parties or field trips free of foods that might cause allergic reactions and designate someone to carry epinephrine
- Make sure all classroom activities are inclusive. For example, don’t use Peanut M&M’s in a counting lesson
I understand that these guidelines will be a big step in making parents of children with food allergies feel safer. My concern is what if we are creating a false sense of security? What if we send our kids to school and believe they are safe, but then when they are out in the real world they are less careful because they expect the entire world to adhere to these school guidelines? But they don’t. Suddenly, little Brianna is not paying close attention to whether or not there are peanuts on the label because she just assumes there are not. Or little Bobby stops carrying his epi pen on him because he knows faculty carry one and he finds himself far away from staff on a field trip in anaphylactic shock.
I think the sentiment for these guidelines is great, but unless we adopt them universally, we may just be setting our children up to be exposed to harm.
What do you think? Are the guidelines just providing a false sense of safety?