Province Throws Future of Sabrina’s Law into Question

in Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
Published: May 22, 2014

See Aug. 2, 2014 update: Sabrina’s Law is Safe!

The future of Sabrina’s Law, North America’s first school anaphylaxis management and prevention legislation, is in question.

The Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada recently announced a review that will include Sabrina’s Law, which was passed in May 2005 and was heralded as a breakthrough in school food allergy accommodations. The new review is designed to assess how four major medical conditions – food allergies/anaphylaxis, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy – are managed in the province’s schools.

While no one questions the need to accommodate all four conditions appropriately, the idea that Sabrina’s Law might one day be replaced, watered-down or integrated into an omnibus school health law or policy has sparked concern in the Canadian food allergy community.

“For us, the big concern is the lack of clarity about what this would mean for Sabrina’s Law,” says Laurie Harada, executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada. “We don’t know what exactly is happening – and the answer we’re getting from the government is ‘let’s see what the research says’.”

The current law is named for Sabrina Shannon, a 13-year-old with dairy and other food allergies, who died from anaphylaxis following accidental exposure to cheese in her school’s cafeteria. The law has served as a model for similar anaphylaxis legislation in the United States, other provinces of Canada and as far afield as Australia. No Ontario students have died in school from anaphylaxis since the law’s passage.

“A sword entered my heart after discovering such news,” Sara Shannon, Sabrina’s mother, wrote to Allergic Living. “This distinct law needs to continue and be recognized for its greatness. This law saves children’s lives,” notes the woman who has spoken out in support of similar legislation aimed at food allergy risk reduction and emergency response.

The future of Sabrina’s Law came into question on April 3, when the provincial education minister, Liz Sandals, announced that the Ontario Physical Health and Education Association (OPHEA), a private non-profit organization, had been assigned to conduct the review (or “needs assessment”). OPHEA will receive up to $40,000 in funding to conduct its analysis, and will provide recommendations to the Ministry of Education by January 2015.

“The goal of OPHEA’s needs assessment is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of current policies, administrative procedures, and practices regarding how school boards, schools and public health units manage prevalent medical conditions in Ontario schools,” said Derek Luk, spokesman for the Ontario ministry of education. “The OPHEA needs assessment cannot supersede Sabrina’s Law.”

However, while the review itself won’t change any law, it remains unclear what the potential outcomes of the review are in the longer term – including whether or not Sabrina’s Law will be preserved.

Both Allergic Living and Anaphylaxis Canada urge residents of Ontario to reach out to their provincial representatives to express any concerns. Anaphylaxis Canada has published a link on its website for easy contacts with provincial representatives, as well as a news release about the Ministry’s announcement.

Dave Levac, MPP from Brantford, Ontario who introduced Sabrina’s Law, remains optimistic about the review, launched by his Liberal Party colleague. “It is reasonable to assume that Sabrina’s Law would remain a vital component of a comprehensive plan to protect students’ health and safety in our schools,” says Levac, who is currently running for re-election in the June 12 Ontario election. “I didn’t work long and hard on Sabrina’s Law alongside many families and organizations to see any watering down of this legislation. I will fight as hard to protect Sabrina’s Law as I did to get it passed.”

In a press release, Bob Pratt, President of the Ontario Principals’ Council, commented: “It is our hope that such a review will lead to the development of an overarching protocol or policy that can address current and emergent student medical needs in a workable manner for medical practitioners and educators.”

Sabrina’s Law requires school boards to have all principals implement anaphylaxis plans that include: strategies to reduce exposure to allergens, procedures to communicate to parents, students and employees about life-threatening allergies, and regular training on dealing with life-threatening allergies for teachers and staff. The fact that it is law, as opposed to guidelines, has greatly assisted parents in seeking appropriate and consistent accommodations for their allergic children throughout the province, notes Allergic Living editor Gwen Smith.

The June 12 provincial election further complicates matters. Should a change in government occur, it is unclear what this would mean for the review or for Sabrina’s Law.

Posted: May 22, 2014

See also:
Anaphylaxis Canada’s news release
Sabrina’s Law: The Girl and the Allergy Law
“A Nutty Tale”: Sabrina’s radio documentary