Managing Milk Allergy at School

in Food Allergy, Milk & Egg
Published: August 17, 2010

As the mother of a dairy-allergic pre-teen, I am often asked: “How can anyone be allergic to milk?” From an early age, we’re taught that milk is good for you. It’s hard for people to fathom living without it, and then you explain that the allergy is not just to cow’s milk, but to a protein in every dairy product. Whether milk, cheese or whey or casein ingredients in a packaged food – it’s all dangerous and to be avoided.

Back when we registered our daughter for Junior Kindergarten, my husband and I heard all about anaphylaxis plans for peanuts and tree nuts. But school officials seemed to have a hard time grasping that milk could be just as deadly to a child allergic to dairy.

The school had a monthly Pizza Day, and the allergist had recommended that  our daughter not go to school on those days, as the risk of a reaction from the melted cheese (which smears so easily) was high. Since she missed many events, I asked the school to reconsider the importance of Pizza Day. To my great relief, the new principal was most understanding and promptly dropped the “day”.

Not all parents accepted this easily, but that’s OK. My primary job is to protect my child physically and psychologically; I want her formative years in academia to be positive. Several years into our journey with dairy allergy and the school, the awareness-building continues. Along the way, we have learned much that’s worth sharing.

Keeping the Child Safe

1. First, meet the principal. It’s best to do this before school starts, and this step is essential for a first year at a school. You need to make sure that the principal understands the issues involved with dairy allergy. Make a good first impression; be reasonable, clear and encourage mutual respect. Know what you want to achieve.

But, let the principal and/or vice principal speak first and explain the allergy procedures the school has developed. This fosters a positive atmosphere, and then you’ll only have to make the case for a few important items.

2. Be aware of the minefields. Direct dairy sources at school include: milk programs, pizza parties, chocolate, goldfish crackers, cheese strings, yogurt and bread. Cross-contamination or contact reactions can result from old Playdough, toys, faucets and door knobs. In the younger grades, children still place fingers in their mouths or noses and accidental ingestion this way can cause reactions.

3. Focus on reducing the risk. Some schools will make a specific classroom “allergy-friendly” and restrict dairy products to protect an allergic child. But milk in the form of whey, casein or modified milk ingredients is in so many foods that completely restricting it in a school would: not be practical, cause an uproar, and be impossible to police.

Still, according to several anaphylaxis laws and policies in the United States and Canada, a principal is required to devise and communicate the plan to minimize a food-allergic child’s exposures. If there is a milk program, discuss how your child will be accommodated (e.g. special table, no straws).

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