​5 Tips – Thinking About Back to School

“It’s time to get ready for going back to school. Let’s see . . . backpack . . . folders . . . pens and pencils . . . epinephrine auto-injector . . . doctor’s forms . . .”

A new school year is an important time for all families with school-age youth, but there’s an added dimension for families living with a life-threatening food allergy. Along with all of the other preparations, you want and need to be sure that your child will be safe at school.

Below are 5 tips for parents to keep in mind when sending their child back to school.

Think “5”!

  1. Check in with your healthcare provider
  2. Complete forms and have medications ready
  3. Meet with your school nurse
  4. Open lines of communication with teachers and staff
  5. Enjoy the first days of school

1. Check in with your healthcare provider

Late summer or early September is the best time to visit your healthcare provider to be sure that your child’s care is on track. Talk about any concerns you have and include your child in your discussions about allergy management. The goal is to have children learn to self-manage their allergy and know when to get help if an exposure occurs.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your child see a pediatrician or a board-certified allergist? Ask your healthcare provider about what’s best for your child.
  • What concerns do you have? What do you need help with?
  • How would your child communicate that they may be experiencing anaphylaxis? One child I cared for simply said, “My mouth feels hot.” As a nurse, I knew that indicated a release of histamine, but another school staff member might require a more specific call for help. Work with the school nurse to help your child learn how to communicate that they are experiencing an allergic reaction.

2. Complete medical forms and have medications ready

Know what healthcare forms the school needs for the school year. Some may require a statement from your healthcare provider with your child’s allergy diagnosis in order to provide substitutions in the cafeteria. Provide updated medication orders and any information that would help the school develop an action or emergency care plan.

When you take your epinephrine auto-injector prescription to the pharmacist, ask about copay programs. Also, explain that the prescription is for school and ask for an expiration date as far in the future as possible. Many students carry an epinephrine auto-injector with them and also keep a backup set in the school health office. Epinephrine auto-injectors come in packages of two because a second dose is sometimes required to save a life. Plan to have a two-pack both at home and at school.

Questions to consider:

  • What forms do you need to start the school year? Does your child need special permission to keep medication with them at all times?
  • Can your child take the medication to school for storage in the health office? Most districts require a parent to drop medications off in person.
  • Do children with allergies eat alone at school or with other students? Children with allergies should not be isolated. Talk about a policy that may include a “food allergy aware” space or other strategies.
  • Who can help your child if they need epinephrine at school? What school staff members are trained to administer this life-saving medication?

3. Meet with your school nurse

Your school nurse can help you determine what accommodations are reasonable and needed at school. The nurse will lead the development of an action or emergency care plan and educate staff about your child’s allergy. Working together, you and the school nurse can partner on creating an allergy-aware environment.

Questions to consider:

  • Does your school have a school nurse (some schools refer to health aides as the “nurse”) and how often is the nurse in the building? Children with food allergies benefit from having a school nurse on site all day, every day.
  • What accommodations do you feel your child needs? When you meet with school staff, be open to listening to how they’ve solved issues in the past and how they will address your child’s needs. Form a partnership with school staff so everyone is working together for your child.
  • Does your school have a ban on peanuts or peanut products? Schools are public buildings that simply cannot guarantee that no allergen will be present. Because of that, food bans can create a false since of security. Effective food allergy policies emphasize education and awareness and include individual health care plans for students.

4. Open lines of communication with teachers and staff

Whether your child is young or a teenager, work together to decide what teachers should know about the child’s allergy and how they should be told. Will you have a face-to-face meeting, use email or another means? Involve your child in building relationships with teachers.

Questions to consider:

  • What does staff need to know? What do you want them to know? What does your child want them to know?
  • Does staff understand your child’s right to confidentiality? Consider a discussion about how to share news without publicly singling out your child or teen.

5. Enjoy the first days of school

When things are in place for your child, it reduces the anxiety that can come with a new school year. When you can communicate confidence for allergy management, your child can learn to follow practical management strategies and feel safe at school.

Questions to consider:

  • How can you build your child up to have confidence going off to school?
  • Are there other parents you can talk with when you’re feeling anxious?
  • How do you keep from communicating anxiety to your child?

As you sharpen your pencils and fill the backpack, Think “5” and make it a great school year!