- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2000

Children with food allergies increase their chances of a fatal exposure when they are at school, says Dr. Martha White, an allergist at Washington Hospital Center.
Hundreds of children bringing in potentially allergenic foods, the absence of a full-time nurse, peer pressure and parent-teacher miscommunication could add up to a hazardous situation for a food-allergic child.
That is why parents must not only communicate the danger of forbidden foods to their children, they must educate various members of the school staff as well, says Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder of the Food Allergy Network (FAN), a nonprofit group that provides food allergy educational materials to parents and teachers.
"A 1992 New England Journal of Medicine article looked at six fatal allergic reactions and found that four of them happened at school," Ms. Munoz-Furlong says. "We realized then that schools are unprepared. Since we never know how serious an allergy will become, everyone needs to be prepared. The school should have an emergency allergy drill. They should know what symptoms to look for. They should know that if a child's breathing is compromised, they should not hesitate to call 911."
Jean Hunt, a Fredericksburg, Va., resident whose third-grader, James, is allergic to peanuts, has been a watchdog over her son's condition since he was in preschool. The preschool part was easy, she says, because at that age parents are in constant contact with teachers.
Before James began kindergarten, Mrs. Hunt went to his school and met with the teacher, the cafeteria manager and the school nurse. Armed with information from FAN, she gave the adults handouts to read about off-limits foods and how to respond to an allergy emergency.
Accommodations for James' allergy have included bringing a separate treat when the class is celebrating a birthday to sitting at a "peanut-free" table with other peanut-allergic children at lunchtime.
"Our school [Lee Hill Elementary in Spotsylvania County] has been pretty good," Mrs. Hunt says. "They have been very cooperative. They even asked in the newsletter that parents not bring peanut items in for parties."
Debbie Conner's daughter, Erin, sits also sits at a peanut-free table at the Montessori Children's House of Loudoun County where she attends kindergarten. When Erin moves to Lowes Island Elementary School next year, Mrs. Conner plans to meet with several staff members well in advance.
Most area school systems have general food-allergy guidelines, but leave the decision on whether to provide peanut-free tables or ban peanuts entirely up to the individual schools.
"We count on good communication with the parents," says Gerri Hill, assistant principal of Buzz Aldrin Elementary School in Reston. "Our role then is to create the most secure safety net around the children."
Mrs. Hill says Aldrin has peanut-free tables but does not ban peanuts entirely. Sharing food at lunchtime is also prohibited.
"We do make parents aware of whether other children are allergic," she says.
Staff members at both Erin's and James' schools know how to administer the children's EpiPen, the auto-injector of epinephrine that could ward off anaphylaxis the compromised breathing that could lead to shock of a severe reaction.
Proper training in the use of the EpiPen is crucial, Ms. Munoz-Furlong says.
"Many people don't understand the EpiPen," she says. "They are worried about not knowing how to use it. The teacher or nurse should have written instructions. They should also know that if the injection is given and was not needed, no harm will be done. But if it is needed and was not given, they may be faced with a reaction that is out of control."
FAN's free training manual, "The School Food Allergy Training Program," includes an EpiPen trainer that school officials can use to practice.
The manual also details how to prevent allergic reaction and what to do in case of an emergency. It also reviews the legal rights of children with allergies and examines the food allergy policies that some schools have put into place. The manual can be ordered by calling 800/929-4040.

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