As the federal government announced this week it will issue its first guidelines to schools on how to protect children with food allergies, local school systems already have worked to ensure students with allergies are safe during school hours.
“We have addressed this in our procedures ... and I know we are sensitive to particular peanut allergies and those type of things that we have to watch in the cafeteria and so forth,” Cartersville Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said. “We do follow what the law is in terms of kids carrying the [epinephrine autoinjectors], we do allow them to do that. We’ve been doing that for two to three years, I know.”
House Bill 337, which became effective in May, addressed allergic reactions in school. It authorized licensed health practitioners to prescribe auto-injectable epinephrine for schools and allowed pharmacists to fill such prescriptions.
According to the Associated Press, the federal voluntary guidelines call on schools to take such steps as restricting nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and to make sure emergency allergy medicine — like EpiPens — are available.
Dr. Wayne Giles, who oversaw development of the advice for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the AP, “The need is here” for a more comprehensive, standardized way for schools to deal with allergic reactions in schools.
A recent CDC survey estimated that about 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. Many food allergies are mild and something children grow out of; however, cases may cause anaphylactic shock or even death. Experts say more than 170 foods are known to cause reactions.
The guidelines released by the federal government were required by a 2011 federal law.
The new advice calls for schools to do the following:
• Identify children with food allergies;
• Have a plan to prevent exposures and manage any reactions;
• Train teachers or others how to use medicines like epinephrine injectors, or have medical staff to do the job;
• Plan parties or field trips free of foods that might cause a reaction, and designate someone to carry epinephrine;
• Make sure classroom activities are inclusive.
For example, don’t use Peanut M&M’s in a counting lesson, said John Lehr, chief executive of an advocacy group that worked on the guidelines, Food Allergy Research & Education.
Carolyn Duff, president of the National Association of School Nurses, which worked on the guidelines, said many schools may not have policies on food allergies. “And if they do, maybe the policies aren’t really comprehensive,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who worked on the law that led to the guidelines, said in a statement that they are a big step toward giving parents “the confidence that their children will stay safe and healthy at school.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this article