Milk Allergy in the School
• Establish Credibility: Many parents come to food allergy planning meetings armed with emotions, not facts. While you may be passionate about your child’s well-being, it’s essential to remain calm, keep your requests reasonable, and provide solutions that can be easily implemented. You will be dealing with the same people for many years to come, and will want to establish a reputation as someone who can be taken seriously.
Also, if you are over-dramatic with statements like, “if she touches milk, it will kill her!” it may actually put administrators on edge about the school’s ability to care for your child at all.
• Use Available Tools: As a former special education teacher, Lee was no stranger to 504 plans for disabilities. But before going on leave to raise her children, she had never dealt with a food-allergic student.
“It’s amazing; we’ve gone from virtually no food allergic students just 10 years ago, to nearly two in every classroom.” She emphasizes that educators do have the best interest of each child in mind; after all “they devote their lives to it.” But many don’t have experience with this increasingly prevalent situation.
To aid awareness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created “Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs”. These are an invaluable resource, with specific recommendations to help educators.
• Make Space: In planning with the school, focus on creating a dairy-free zone for your child when food is present. If lunch is eaten in the classroom, establish a protocol for cleaning his desktop, work with the teacher to create a seating arrangement in which the kids directly around him will not be eating high-risk dairy products and strive for post-meal hand washing and clean-up policies for the entire class.
In the lunchroom, if a food-allergy table free of milk is not feasible, have your child routinely sit in a designated spot at the end of a table to limit the number of kids and food items in close proximity. Make the lunchroom staff aware of his regular location and request proper cleaning of the space – a dirty wet rag won’t remove allergens. As an extra precaution, arm your child with wet wipes to clean any uncertain surfaces.
As a part of her 504 plan stipulations, Lee’s daughter has a one-on-one aide assigned to her in the lunchroom who checks up on the kids next to her to avoid food issues, and who is trained in epinephrine procedures should a situation arise. In daycares and kindergarten, Lee also promotes separation of learning and eating spaces, with a designated area for food storage and consumption.
• Food-Free Fun: When a celebration or reward centers on food, such as ice cream or cupcakes, milk-allergic kids feel excluded. Encourage a transition in traditions by offering ideas that take food out of the equation. This can allow your child the satisfaction of working toward a goal or enjoying a special day while taking the pressure off teachers. For a list of all-inclusive suggestions for the classroom, see our Food-free Reward and Celebration Ideas.
Alisa Fleming is a contributing editor to Allergic Living magazine and the author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance and Casein Free Living, and founder of Godairyfree.org.