Peanut-free schools: best practice or too stringent? We investigate.
We send our kids to school entrusting that it is a safe and enriching environment for them. Schools strive to be the place that children can learn, grow and be happy kids. When it comes to kids with food allergies, ensuring that schools are all of the above requires additional work and coordination by teachers, school administration, parents and kids. Each and every family and school has found different ways to help kids with food allergies strive in their school.
Whether you are a parent of a child new to food allergies, an educator, or a parent that has already worked with your school, bringing in a few of the practices schools and parents follow can be helpful in exploring the best one for you and your children.
Why are schools so important?
As many as 18% of children with food allergies have had a reaction from accidentally eating food allergens while at school. Considering how many hours children spend in schools, on average 6 hours per day, many meals are covered throughout the year. Each and every meal, classroom party, or the unexpected snack time, is an opportunity to educate both schools as well as help children with food allergies stay safe. Creating a plan with schools is helpful both as a preventative measure but also in case exposure to the allergen does happen.
Communication is critical
Communication is critical with all educational partners that your child may be interacting with – teachers, school administration and after-school caretakers. Parents should always notify the school of all allergies and build a plan with the school as treatment plan if the child gets exposure. It is common to include the following in the plan and recommend reviewing these with your doctor:
Educate your child – they are their own best advocate!
- Ensure he or she has the right tools
- Discuss what is okay and not okay to eat
- Review what to do in case of an allergic reaction
- Teach them the best way to teach others about their own allergy
Educate staff about your child’s allergy
Create an action plan if exposure does occur
- What, which and when administer medication
- Emergency contacts
Detailed approved foods for each school related activity
- Regular school hours
- After school activities
Create resources and share with other parents and students
Peanuts in schools
Schools have different policies on peanuts in schools. These include:
No policy – The school does not place any restrictions on when and where peanuts can be.
Allergen-free classroom – If a student is highly allergic to an allergen, such as peanuts, a classroom may decide to have the room be peanut-free or allergen-free.
Peanut-free / Nut-free lunch tables – Certain lunch tables are dedicated as allergen-free to help reduce cross-contamination while eating lunch.
Peanut-free / Nut-free school – The whole school does not allow specific allergens in the school. This is the most common in pre-K schools.
Currently, there is no recommendation for which policy is the best. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recently published a study that evaluated epinephrine administration rates in schools that have a peanut-free school versus peanut-free tables policies. Peanut-free schools did not affect the incidence rate of epinephrine administration. However, schools with peanut-free tables, compared to schools without, had a lower rates of epinephrine administration. An analysis of the study, Peanut-Free School Zones Don’t Work, was written by the American Council of Science and Health. But more research still needs to be done to determine which practice is most effective.
Some additional resources we have found helpful: