Friday, August 23, 2013

Guidelines for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Illinois Schools - How They Can Help You Even if You Don't Live in Illinois

Does your school district have a food allergy policy?  Did you know that if it's a public school in Illinois, it is a requirement to have district wide food allergy management guidelines in place?

Like many requirements for which the schools get no State money, often referred to as "unfunded mandates," sometimes school districts do the minimum amount necessary to comply with the requirement.  For that reason, if you live in Illinois, you should find out what your district's policies are and whether they are sufficient to protect severely food allergic students.  If they are sufficient, find out whether your school is actually following the district guidelines.

If you live outside of Illinois, you should find out if your school district has food allergy guidelines and, if not, lobby it to create guidelines for managing food allergies. 

Start by educating yourself about the State guidelines.  In August 2009, the Illinois General Assembly passed Public Act 96-0349.  This Act required the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), to appoint a committee to create guidelines for managing life-threatening food allergies in Illinois schools.  The committee was comprised of medical experts in food allergies, representatives on behalf of students with food allergies, principals and other representatives from public schools, a State Representative, and statewide teacher's organizations.

I was a proud member of that committee, serving as an attorney and representative on behalf of students with food allergies.  We created the Guidelines for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Illinois Schools, which the ISBE and IDPH adopted.  Creating these guidelines caused us to consider every aspect of the day of a food allergic child, as well as how making certain accommodations would affect the school staff.

Among other things, the guidelines address the classroom, class parties, cafeterias and lunchrooms, custodial staff, school buses and transportation, field trips, food allergy law, 504 plans, Emergency Action Plans, nursing staff and administration of epinephrine.  We had to consider things like while in urban and suburban schools, kids typically eat in a lunch room, in more rural areas, kids sometimes eat in their classrooms because their school is small.  In those rural schools, banning an allergen from the classroom might not be a realistic option.  Or that some schools do not have a nurse on staff or share a nurse with other schools.  We learned that some teachers refuse to agree to administer epinephrine, because they do not want the responsibility, and cannot be forced to do so or that some teachers are worried about liability.  Just like every kid is different in the way they react to allergens, every school is different in the facilities and staff available.  The guidelines account for all of these variables, and because every situation is different, it is important that you advocate for your food allergic child's specific needs and circumstances.

If you are in the process of developing a 504 Plan with your school, it would be a good exercise to read through the guidelines, even if you do not live in Illinois, because they will cause you to consider things that you likely did not think about in your child's school day.  They also contain sample 504 Plans and Emergency Action Plans. 

NOTE:  Other States have created similar guidelines and I will try compile all of the States' guidelines in a future post.

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