While field trips have the potential for danger, they are an important part of your child’s education, and worth the effort. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies In Schools and Early Care and Education Programs” recommend that schools determine whether a field trip location is safe for those with food allergies, that the field trip be consistent with food allergy policies, and that children with food allergies are not excluded from these trips.
These guidelines are not mandatory, however. “You really have to do your due diligence to make sure the field trip is an activity that’s safe so your child has the accommodations that are needed,” says Gina Clowes, director of education for Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). The following are Allergic Living’s steps to help ensure your child’s safe outing.
1. Plan in Advance
Make sure field trips are addressed in your child’s individualized food allergy plan, whether that’s a Section 504 plan or another document. Include things such as who will supervise your child, how far in advance you will be made aware of field trips and a provision for you to be allowed to attend all field trips (but not required to attend).
This plan won’t have specifics for each trip, but could stipulate, for example, that students will wash their hands after activities when allergens are present, and after eating.
Clowes suggests speaking to next year’s teacher the spring prior, to hand out what trips might be coming up. It’s especially helpful to start thinking ahead if your student is in an older grade and there’s an overnight field trip on the horizon.
2. Be Detail-Oriented
Once you have information on a specific trip, set up a time to speak with the teacher. “You want to walk through the day,” says Clowes. “Others are not looking at things through allergy-colored glasses.” She suggests asking about everything from what will be done on the field trip to bus seating arrangements, and where students will be eating lunch.
It’s also a good idea to research the venue by looking at its website, calling ahead, visiting it in person, and asking other parents who have been there.
3. Who’s In Charge?
“One of the big things is to make sure your child is supervised by somebody who is trained to recognize the symptoms of anaphylaxis and administer epinephrine,” says Gina Mennett Lee, a food allergy consultant and educator (found at Foodallergyconsulting.com). Ideally, that would be the child’s parent, but if you cannot attend, your child should be in a group with someone who can act in an emergency, which might be the teacher or the school nurse.
Mennett Lee recommends that for any child with a medical condition, there should be two chaperones nearby, even if that means two groups have to stick together.
“This way, if a chaperone needs to leave with the child with the medical condition, there’s someone still there to supervise the rest of that group,” she explains. For instance, you might need to accompany the child to wash her hands if there was possible contact with an allergen.
4. Lunch Matters
Talk through where and when lunch will be eaten. If you’re going to a facility, such as a science center, and the kids will be eating in a cafeteria, make sure your child’s spot will be wiped down, or ask in advance to be the first school group to eat. In most circumstances, send a safe bagged lunch, even if others are buying from a cafeteria. With an older student, it may be safe to purchase, but call in advance to find out what dish will be suitable and request that a portion is plated and held. Both your child and a teacher should remind food service staff of these special arrangements.
Often in warm months, the plan is to enjoy an outdoor picnic. But in inclement weather, Clowes notes the backup would be to eat on the bus, which can be messy and worrisome, especially if, for example, you’re dealing with a dairy allergy and students are eating yogurt on the bus. If this is the case, make sure there’s a plan for special seating, such as a buffer zone area free of allergens for your child.
Other food concerns: find out if snacks will be handed out at any point, if kids will be allowed to eat snacks from home on the bus, or if food is part of the programming.
5. Hands, Hands Everywhere
Field trips are often hands-on by nature. Mennett Lee advises finding out – “Are the children going to be touching things?” For an art-related trip, find out what the paints are made of. If other students touch allergens on a trip, be certain there’s a provision in place that they will wash their hands afterwards.
6. Stock the Bag
Make sure your child is carrying her epinephrine auto-injectors, as well as any other allergy or asthma medications your doctor has advised. Pack plenty of wipes to clean eating areas and hands. The adult in charge should have a cellphone to call 911 in an emergency, and extra snacks can come in handy in many circumstances, including traffic delays.