Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Kindergarten Bound with Allergies

My son will be starting kindergarten next year. He is allergic to peanuts.

Many of my regular readers and friends, have asked me to share what I am doing to make sure he is safe at school. This is the first post of what I am sure will be many about our journey into the public school system with a severe peanut allergy (PA).

Above all else, throughout the process of educating and making preparations, make sure you support you school. Be involved in your school.

My PA son is my second child so I already have a student in the school that he will be attending. I became involved with the school right away. I have attended PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meetings for the last two years. I was involved long before the staff or principal had any idea that I had a child with a peanut allergy.

I know that if you have a PA child that is your oldest child, getting involved at the school will happen when your child gets ready to go to school. That's fine. I just wanted to let you know where I was coming from. I also want you to know that I think being involved helps build relationships. Having healthy relationships with the staff is an essential part of protecting a child with a food allergy.

Step 1: The first thing we did to prepare for school is have an appointment with our son's allergist. We talked to him about our concerns and got his recommendations. We had a lot of questions. Our school has never had a child with a peanut allergy (or another serious food allergy).

Our allergist gave us a "Food Allergy Treatment Form" that we could pass on to the school. This describes symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, what to look for and what steps to take in an emergency. (I can scan this in for you at another time if you are interested.)

Step 2: We scheduled an appointment with the Princial and the school nurse during the Spring of the year prior to when he starts Kindergarten to discuss his peanut allergy and how the school will handle it.

We wanted to be proactive. We want to give the school as much time as possible to make preparations. We were thanked for contacting them so early.

Before the meeting, my husband and I came up with a list of what we wanted to cover during the meeting. My husband checked off the items as we discussed them. I provided a history of David's allergy and gave them a copy of my What I’d Like for You To Know guest post.

Decisions were made such as:
- They will talk about the Peanut Allergy at Kindergarten Orientation. They will hand out information to the parents.
- A letter will be sent home with the kids at the Kindergarten Assessment.
- We will meet with all of the kindergarten teachers and aids (and other staff like PE and music teachers) the week before school starts.
- We will meet with the school nurse to develop an Emergency Health Care Plan.

It was a good meeting. We were educating them about food allergies. We discussed how to keep his room safe. We talked about how to make the school safer for David. (I will write more about the precautions we are taking later.)

Step 3: I believe part of protecting my son means taking initiative. I am providing the school with as much information as I can and I am asking lots questions.

Tomorrow is Kindergarten Orientation. I talked to the school nurse yesterday. She is planning on handing out some PAL information. I stopped by the school this morning.

They printed 1) the information I gave them from FAAN about reading labels. 2) An example label: A bag of lettuce contains a nut warning!

and 3) This info about Foods that Might Contain Nuts

I asked if food was going to be served at the Orientation.

They responded with surprise and a look that said, "I didn't think of that." They brought out a pre-packaged container of cookies from the grocery store bakery. I showed them the peanut warning on the package. They are buying a separate package of Oreos, which will be placed on a separate plate for him.

I will continue to let you know how everything unfolds. Much of what will happen will take place in the weeks before school starts. I am excited and a bit nervous about Kindergarten Orientation tomorrow.


Amy Jo said...

JJ-I am so impressed and in awe of you. I will pray that orientation goes well tomorrow and the parents are receptive and understanding. It is interesting that after all of the preparation the school made for the meeting, they didn't think of the food being served. Hmm...I guess that's why you'll need to continue being proactive! Great job, Momma.

RLR said...

I am so glad to see this post, and look forward to your future "PA in public schools" posts. I think I've mentioned before that my daughter and son will be starting public school in the fall - he in kindergarten and she in a 1/2 day preschool program there. I've already asked some basic questions and gotten the "we are peanut-free" answer - and then my son came home with unsafe candy in the treat bag he received at kindergarten assessment....
I'm on the board at their current preschool, and anticipate being very involved in their new school. Thanks for sharing your experiences so the rest of us can be that much more prepared!

Nicole said...

It sounds like you've done a lot of great work already. When my son started school he was also the first student to have a severe allergy. We did many of the same things you've done and everything went just fine. We've since moved to a larger district where they have dealt with this before, but I actually sort of miss the small school atmosphere where everyone knew him and us. We all worked together!

Trisha said...

Wow, you are prepared! This is great advice for us that have this to 'look forward to' someday.

Elaine at Matters of the Heart) said...

I am so happy to have found you. It is so nice to watch someone go through this before it is my time. I found out last week that the kindergarten my little guy will go to has the one peanut allergic child eat lunch in the office everyday. I have mixed feelings about this. Can't wait to see how all of this unfolds for you. Please keep posting about it, there are so many of us can benefit from what you have to share.

I will continue to pray that, God guides and directs you, and that all the parents hearts will be soften.

Have fun at orientation.

Eyeglasses & Endzones said...

Again, I am amazed at all the moms out there that keep their children safe with allergies. My boys do not have a food allergy and my thoughts are with all of you as you keep them safe and educate everyone around them. Great job on the label too..who would have guessed lettuce?

everydayMOM said...

Thanks for the link. I had tried to visit your blog before, but I think I had an out-dated link maybe??

It sounds like you are off to a great start! If you don't speak up for your child, who will?? Sometimes we have to be the ones to make waves. It's not fun, but you are doing it not only for your own child, but lots of future children in that school.

I meet with the administrators and new teacher before each new year begins. I can e-mail you the documents that we go over at that time, if you are interested.

Alicia said...

Wow..that is great!! I don't blame you at all for taking all the necessary steps and precautions!!

AutumnFawn said...

Though my kids don't go to public school, we still deal with the PA issue at church and just about anywhere they have food!! It can be daunting! Where did you get the info about the "other" ingredients like the additives and such that are possibly nut based? I don't remember my allergist giving me any info like that. I honestly have never even heard of that last ingredient.

Jeanne said...

Wow. I can't wait to hear what happens in the near future, and am glad that the staff seems to be taking this very seriously.

sarah said...

Good for you! You are so proactive! Your son is luch to have a mom like you!!

Carrie said...

That is so impressive! My kids do not have I know if that's the case with most people, we wouldn't have thought of those things! Although, it seems rather common for kids to have peanut allergies anymore...the cafeteria at our school is peanut-free {they have signs all over the cafeteria with the word and a picture of a peanut crossed out!} And the kindergarten teacher that Alex has does not allow treats in the classroom because there are too many allergies! It sounds like the school is working very closely with you and will make it a safe place for your son! So many other parents will be so thankful to you for this! {ps...I've become a follower because I'm interested to see how this progresses...and your kids are super cute! :) }

Carey-Life in the Carpool Lane said...

My sons go to a co-op preschool which is primarily run by parents. This year was our first year with a PA student. We were all nervous but with a lot of education (and a demo on using an EPI pen!) we have (almost) made it through the year.

It's sad that you are the ones having to educate the school but great that they are so understanding and receptive. It seems like all schools should have to go through some sort of training because (correct me if I'm wrong) PA is becoming increasingly common.

Hope you'll let us know how the orientation goes...

Beth E. said...

This is great! We dealt with so many issues in school for our youngest son, who has a severe allergy to tree nuts. He can be in the same room with the nuts, but cannot touch or eat them, of course. Will your son be able to sit at the lunch table with kids who have peanut butter sandwiches?

I applaud your school for being so cooperative. We were not as fortunate. Basically, we were told it was up to us to prepare our child to take responsibility for his own allergy. He had to ask the cafeteria staff if foods contained nuts. Lots of times, they didn't know. We gave up and packed his lunch from then on!

I'm so glad your son's school is on board with protecting your son!

McCrakensx4 said...

I once had a child with a PA in my class. We were a peanut free room and she sat at a peanut free table in the lunch room. Her parents were very poractive as well which helped all that was involved. Kudos to you for all that you are doing to make this the safest and smoothest transition for your little one. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and exciting, not scary. I hope all goes well.

Elaine A. said...

Neither of my kids have any food allergies (so far!) so I can only imagine how challenging it is to deal with a severe one like this. I am glad to hear that the school he's going to is being so proactive and involved in working with you all on dealing with it in the right way.

Nowheymama said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog--nice to "meet" you! I'll be interested to hear how Kindergarten orientation went.

Sue said...

Hi. I just found your blog. My daughter is allergic to dairy and is also entering K next year. Althoug she will be going at her preschool. It gives me an extra year since they have been wonderful with her the past 2 years. But I am slowly starting down the path for 1st grade. I have a sense it won't go well, but have been gathering info. I'll be looking forward to reading about your journey. She is my oldest, but I think you're right and may look into the PTO now. Not sure if they take parents of future kids, but it can't hurt to look into it.
I hope the orientation went well.

kelly said...

You have done a great job!

Grey Family said...

Great post! I found you through a friend of a friend. I was intrigued by your post of a parent who has an allergy. Since I am a teacher in a school with students that have severe peanut allergies, let me give you a few helpful hints! :) I taught 7 years before I had to beware of peanut allergies. In the lunchroom, they have a peanut free table. It's beneficial for the students with the peanut allergy to have an entire area they can sit with their friends. Their friends just have to ensure they don't have anything with peanuts in their lunch. If they aren't sure, they ask the monitor to check their lunches! This included students who aren't in their homeroom :) Students were sent home a note at the beginning of the year to avoid them bringing anything with PB in their lunches for the students in my homeroom. That included any snacks brought in for treats etc. Lastly, it was great to have an inservice with all the teachers, aides, monitors and anybody that will be involved with them on how to use the epipen! :) Good luck and I hope your transition goes smooth!