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10 Tips for Getting your Child Off to a New School Safely
New to school or new to food allergies?
By Lynda Mitchell
My son is in college now, but I can still vividly remember how worried I was to send him off to a new school when he entered kindergarten — into the care of adults who were unfamiliar with his food allergies and how to manage them in the classroom.
I've learned along the way that advance planning and a positive relationship are the keys to success in sending your child off to a new school — or any new situation for that matter! Providing caregivers with the tools they need to manage food allergies will grant you peace of mind — because you've done everything you can to set him up for success during this new milestone in his life.
The following are my tips for success in entering a new school that I hope will be of help to you.
1. Do your homework.
Find out if you live in a state that has food allergy management guidelines. If so, your child's school will have food allergy management policies in place and you won't need to start from scratch. Even if your state doesn’t have food allergy guidelines, your new school may still have developed its own food allergy management policies – so ask if your child’s new school has these types of policies in place. Review the recommended responsibilities for families, students and school staff to find out key items that need to be addressed in the school setting. Also read up on new guidance for parents.
2. Start early.
Don’t wait until the beginning of the school year to start planning. Send a letter to the school principal requesting a meeting with you and your child the year before your child will be entering his new school.
3. Meet the school nurse.
Schedule an introductory meeting with the school nurse well in advance of the beginning of the school year. Find out what services are available and how the health room operates during a typical school day.
4. Get a doctor's letter.
Work with your child's pediatrician or allergist to obtain a letter that outlines precautions and treatment recommendations your child will need for his health and safety.*
5. Develop a coordinated care plan in advance of the first day of school.
Work with your school nurse and other designated staff using the information in your child’s doctor’s letter to create a school food allergy management and treatment plan customized for your child’s needs.*
6. Meet the teacher.
Schedule time to meet with the teacher and discuss classroom accommodations that will be included in your child's school plan (i.e., hand-washing, food in the classroom, a special treat box for your child, or other issues).*
7. Prepare your child.
Start working with your child, in an age-appropriate way, to teach him what he is responsible for, such as avoiding allergens, not sharing food and speaking up if he starts to have an allergic reaction at school.
8. Make your health room checklist for the first day of school.
Fill out all forms in a timely manner, including ones that designate emergency contacts other than you. As soon as school opens on the first day, turn in your child's physician orders for medication administration, a food allergy action plan and a fresh supply of any medicines your child may need during the school day as soon as school opens on the first day. If possible, make sure medications don't expire during the school year so you won't have to deal with replacing them.
9. Make your classroom checklist for the first day of school.
Make a list of all of the items you will need to drop off for your child beyond the usual school supplies, like hand wipes, a special treat box, etc.
10. Form an ongoing partnership.
Check in periodically with the teacher and school nurse to make sure the plan is working and your child is adjusting. Choose your battles wisely and collaborate with your child's school. A positive approach will help you obtain positive outcomes when issues of divisiveness surface.
Despite your understandable worry, keep in mind that most children with food allergies attend school safely every day. Plan ahead and be proactive — stay calm, clearly communicate and offer solutions when things do or don't go right. School planning is a process, and you will find yourself modifying and making adjustments as the year unfolds.
Lynda Mitchell is the parent of a college junior and owner of two Labrador Retrievers, one of whom has food allergies. She is also the founder and president of the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, a national charity that improves the day-to-day lives of families raising children with food allergies and empowers them to create a safe and healthy future for their children.