September 2, 2008
Amy Moellering Column: School Dealing With Kids’ Allergies
By Amy Moellering
AT AGE 6, Brielle Book is no stranger to Epi-Pens or ambulances or life-threatening situations.
She has severe food allergies and, as a first-grader at Bollinger Canyon Elementary School in San Ramon, the chances that she will accidentally come into contact with nuts or dairy products are very high.
Such contact can trigger anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can shut down her breathing passages. If not treated immediately, the condition can be fatal.
According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, or FAAN, more than 3.1 million children in the United States have food allergies, a number that has doubled in the last 10 years.
Brielle's mom, Connie Book, says she feels she is always "on." She can't let her guard down for one moment.
"One thing I have learned just by being a parent is you have to be your child's advocate and that it's better to educate than dictate," she said.
Many people don't understand how lethal some foods can be to children with severe allergies. One person's innocuous peanut butter sandwich could be fatal for another. Although it's unrealistic to forbid schools from allowing certain foods, it is realistic to formulate procedures that will ensure the safety of children with severe allergies.
With this in mind, Book and fellow parents Stephanie Whiteman and Susan Ryu teamed up with Bollinger Canyon Principal Shawn Wells to develop a Food Allergy Protocol Plan that they are implementing this year. In addition, the committee is educating the community by sending home informative letters, showing a video about food allergies at Back to School Night, and preparing a skit that Girl Scouts will perform at a school assembly.
"We want to provide a safe and secure environment for every child while respecting the rights of others," Wells said. "Through educating the community, we can all be friends in protecting these children."
The Food Allergy Protocol Plan trains staff members and teachers in emergency procedures, including the administering of epinephrine. Children with severe food allergies have their photos available so staff and noontime supervisors can recognize them.
At lunch, a table is provided for kids with food allergies to sit together. Other children can sit there, too, but their food must be examined by a trained staff member or parent volunteer who understands the emergency plan of each child. That person will also wipe off the table before lunch.
If parents wish to bring a treat for the class, they agree to bring something without nuts or dairy products, or they inform the teacher who will notify the parent so she can prepare a safe alternative treat. Teachers also notify parents when food substances are used in projects, such as science.
How is the plan working? Since there are only five first-graders with severe allergies, some parents were concerned that the separate table would make them feel ostracized. That hasn't happened.
"The table is actually full -- with friends who want to sit there with the kids who have allergies," Book said.
As for Brielle, she will be an ambassador at the FAAN walk on Sept. 20 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. FAAN is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public about food allergies and finding a cure.
"I wish I didn't have food allergies," Brielle said, "but I don't let them stop me from having fun. My mom prepares foods that look and taste as yummy as my family's does, and my job is just to eat the foods I'm given. That's OK, I still have a great life!"
For more information about FAAN or Sept. 20 fundraiser, visit www.foodallergywalk.org.
Amy Moellering welcomes stories about our local schools. Reach her at [email protected]
Originally published by Amy Moellering, MediaNews.
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