Although progress isn’t happening as quickly as we would like in the food allergy community, it is happening.
It’s been a bumpy start to the school year. I’ve been told that safety guidelines were in place and come to find out, they were not or had been changed without my knowledge or consent. Frustrating isn’t even the word to describe it. This is my kid’s life we’re talking about.
I’ve now clocked in 10 separate meetings with staff and counting since Stella started kindergarten last year, every single one the focus is her food allergies and keeping her safe at school. My last meeting with the principal, the school nurse and the teacher was a small victory- we now have a 504 plan in place, which the school has to abide by. The principal also said she would buy some food allergy books for the library so students could learn about them (I provided her a list), which I really appreciate. And she said she would be sharing my concerns with the superintendent. Cool, cool.
Part of what was discussed and agreed upon is that students eating nuts and nut butters will be monitored and be instructed to wash their hands after eating lunch (sounds nice and all, but have you seen the way kids eat and the way they wash their hands after eating?) and still, we do not have any safety measures in place for when kids eat their morning snack. They tell me it’s just too hard to monitor to know what every child is eating come snack time. I guess they can monitor food at lunch but not snack. Wait…what? So in a nutshell (pun intended), nothing has really changed except my level of frustration, which is now at critical level orange.
I would be at critical PMS-without-chocolate level red if I felt it was just my husband and I fighting to make our school a safer environment. A month ago I was feeling very alone and scared at what we were up against, but a lot can change in a few short weeks.
Before the 504 plan meeting, I had made contact with another food allergy mama living in Petaluma and she was able to help coach me on what needed to be done next at our school and gave me a lot of support with what we were up against. She has recently done a presentation in front of her school board and has made huge strides in her district. They are now trying to adopt a policy that if a child has a food allergy, the district would then have the flexibility to create a nut-safe school. I admire her so much and the timing in coming in contact with her could not have been better.
The day after my last meeting with the principal to get a 504 plan in place was “Second Cup” at Stella’s school. It’s a parent mixer put on by the PTO with the idea you can enjoy your second cup of coffee and talk with other parents and the principal. It also happened to be the same day as Stella’s end of month class birthday celebration, which I had to bake cupcakes for. Seeing how I was already baking I doubled the batch and made close to 100 mini cupcakes to bring to Second Cup. I stuck a cute little sign that read “Dairy Free, Egg Free and Nut Free” and brought my award winning cupcakes to the parent shindig to hope spread some awareness and hopefully meet and talk to some other parents.
Well, what do ya know? I met another mom who has a son in kindergarten with a peanut allergy! She shared with me the terrifying story of her son and an autistic boy with a peanut allergy being fed a cookie with Reese’s Pieces on it while they were in preschool. Parents and teachers were all aware of their food allergies, but a parent had forgot and brought a tray of cookies with Reese’s Pieces on top for a birthday. The teacher didn’t catch it and her son took one bite, spit it out and told the teacher. Her son and the other boy with the peanut allergy became very sick and started vomiting. The teacher tried to deny that they were fed anything with peanuts, and it was through this mom’s own investigation that she found out what had happened. But the real kicker? The preschool also happens to be on the same campus as our elementary school. Gulp.
I’ve been talking and commiserating with this other mom for a couple of weeks now, and it’s given me great relief to know that I am not in this fight alone at the school. We’ve teamed up so that we can be a voice for our children and assure them (and us!) that school is a safe place for them to learn. We both agree that it is essential that we get together with the other parents of the kids with food allergies so that we can work together to form some kind of food allergy protocol for our school. Power in numbers, people!
Separate from meeting this other mama, another amazing mama (I do know a lot of them, don’t I?) has written to both the principal and the superintendent expressing concern that the school is allowing a lethal substance such as nuts onto school campus knowing that their are children deathly allergic to them. She has also drafted a letter to all the parents at our school alerting them that there are multiple children on our campus with life threatening food allergies to nuts, that contact made with nuts could be lethal to these children and are asking parents to voluntarily stop sending nuts to school. Signatures are being collected and parents are helping to give feedback so the final draft of the letter is pitch perfect with answers to commonly asked questions. It’s a sticky subject and every bit of feedback is essential to getting it just right. After every word has been carefully selected and signatures collected it will be shown to the superintendent, whom we hope to meet with at the end of next week.
Over a month ago I felt so completely overwhelmed and sick thinking about the mountain we were up against. It just seemed impossible to overcome the fact that the school does not see the seriousness of this issue, and that parents will inevitably think of me as an overly paranoid helicopter parent. But now I am feeling overwhelmed (in a good way!) by the tremendous amount of support we’ve received from so many.
As Stella’s teacher said to me, “we just can’t go around making the world peanut free.”
But we can sure try and make our school, can’t we?