Thursday, February 9, 2012

Food Allergy Deaths At School: The 10 Commandments

A child dying from a food allergy at school. It's every parent's nightmare, and every school administrator's job to prevent. Then why is it always so difficult to get our schools to take the steps that would keep our children safer?

There are a handful of schools who have a heartbreaking, but incredibly valuable, perspective to share: those that have already had a death happen on their watch.

These schools have had time to consider what they did right and what they did wrong. They have had to process the emotional and legal turmoil that followed each event. And, each of them has had to find a way to continue to educate students: but with a much broader and realistic view of what is truly needed to keep a food-allergic child safe.

Nine-year-old Nathan Walters died while on a field trip after eating a peanut butter cookie provided in his (supposedly safe) school lunch. After his death, the school took the following actions:
  • Instituted staff training about anaphylaxis
  • Changed the field trip lunch order form to ensure allergies are highlighted and double checks are in place
  • Eliminated some peanut-containing foods from their menu entirely 
  • Created a district-wide task force to examine what went wrong
The school district's  resulting food allergy guidelines are now a model for schools worldwide.

13-year-old Sabrina Shannon died after eating school-made French fries contaminated by a utensil that had also been used to serve cheese-containing food. As one of the outcomes from this tragedy, Canada now has Sabrina's Law. What does the law require?
  • Schools have to develop "reasonable procedures", including keeping foods out of classrooms and eating in designated areas only
  • School personnel receive mandatory training on handling anaphylaxis
  • Anyone who gives treatment or epinephrine is covered by a "Good Samaritan" clause, meaning as long as their approach was reasonable, they are protected 
A beautifully-simple statement from the brochure sums up the approach: "While recognizing the parents’ rights to food choices for their child, most parents acknowledge the right to life and safety as greater, and will support procedures which protect the allergic child."

13-year-old Katelyn Carlson died after she ate the Chinese food her teacher ordered in for a holiday party. As a result, the Chicago Public School system implemented a system-wide policy:
  • Each school must stock Epi-Pens, regardless of known allergies 
  • Administration and teachers are permitted to administer a shot to any student in need
A simple policy change like that could have been lifesaving for 7-year-old Ammaria Johnson, who died earlier this year.

Let's sum up The 10 Commandments of Food Allergies these schools have learned and implemented:
  1. Create a district-wide task force to discuss, implement and review plans and procedures.
  2. Ensure the plan includes training teachers and administrators in how to recognize and treat anaphylaxis.
  3. Simplify forms used to order meals for allergic students and create multiple-checkpoint food service procedures to catch errors.
  4. Eliminate peanut-containing foods from universal menus, particularly where foods can be "look-alike" (e.g., cookies).
  5. Keep food out of classrooms.
  6. Confine eating to designated areas that can be decontaminated after use and require students to wash hands after eating.
  7. Ensure emergency caregivers are covered by a "Good Samaritan" provision so they will not hesitate to offer assistance.
  8. Have an Epi-Pen available at all times, regardless of known allergies in the student population.
  9. Administer a shot to any child in need, regardless of known allergy status.
  10. When faced with parental or staff opposition, promote the principle that the right to life and safety for the allergic child takes precedence
Has your school implemented these 10 Commandments?    If not, ask them WHY. Remember: these are not YOUR suggestions on how to handle food allergies. These are rules established by the schools themselves that have already experienced a food allergy-related death. 

There is absolutely no acceptable reason to refuse to learn from — and act upon — their bitterly-earned experience.