It’s getting that time of year again, when schools are finishing up testing and winding down the year of learning. For most, the children are looking forward to a summer of fun and excitement while the parents may be looking forward to a planned vacation, or just the absence of nightly homework assignments.
But for a parent of a child with Celiac and/or food allergies, it is a time of preparation and planning with the school system to ensure that their child’s specific needs are met upon his/her return the following year. If your child will be returning to the same school system the next year, this may only require an update to the child’s health plan as new information is obtained during the summer months regarding health and diet changes.
What if your child will be attending a new school this year? Maybe you are moving; maybe your child is making the transition from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. Your child’s success depends on the familiarity the school staff has with your child, and the staff’s educational level with your child’s particular health issue and diet needs. Ultimately, it is the parent’s responsibility to educate and enforce what is needed in your Childs particular situation, and requesting a meeting to get information documented in a school health plan.
The first important step is to schedule a meeting with the principal of the school the last two or three months of the school year before your child will be attending that school. During this meeting, be sure to take a list of your expectations. In talking with the principal, request any forms that may be required by that school for the administration of medications during the school day, special precautions, and therapies required throughout the day, i.e. occupational therapy for Sensory Perception Disorder. Ask the principal for a copy of the school’s policies surrounding food allergies and/or Celiac Disease. Be sure to request a meeting with teachers, school nurse, and auxiliary staff prior to the school session ending.
IEP, (Individualized Educational Plan) and IHP (Individualized Health Plan) are two of the most commonly utilized plans in the school system for children with special or dietary needs. This is the health care plan that will document your child’s needs in detail. All of the ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ will be included in this plan and should be followed to a ‘T’ by all school personal that comes in contact with your child. It has been my daughter’s experience that while in a smaller school system; this was an easier task to enforce than when going to a larger school. I suggest requesting ALL staff that will be involved with your child to be at the planned meetings. It didn’t take us long to learn that the staff that didn’t attend the meetings were out of the loop, and never did seem to get with the program. The only one who suffers from this occurrence is your child. This plan is extremely important, especially when an Epi-Pen is prescribed. There have been too many fatal incidents over the last couple of years surrounding the use of Epi-Pens in the school setting. It is imperative that ALL of the school personal familiarize themselves with the administration of an Epi-Pen.
Another plan that the school may put in place for your child is a Section 504 Plan. This plan is primarily used when more detail is needed surrounding your child’s issues than the IEP or IHP can deliver, i.e. providing a safer environment for the child with allergies. The 504 Plan provides an additional safety features to ensure your child’s health is protected in all areas of the school. If this plan is not recommended at your first formal meeting, suggest it and recommend that the school see if your child is eligible for this plan.
As the parent, you need to make sure you have all orders from you primary care physician and specialists in hand, and a list of all medications the child is taking. It is also recommended that you have a copy of medical records for the school. Be sure to have all medication forms filled out and signed by the doctor who prescribed the medicine for your child. If at all possible, have your primary care physician attend the first formal meeting. It DOES make a difference in validating your questions and concerns, along with any recommendations you may request. Make sure that you have carefully read the school’s policy manual regarding food allergies and Celiac Disease.
Although, the health aspect of attending school and health plans noted above are so very important, your relationship with the school your child will be attending is crucial to implementation. As a parent, it is important for you to keep involved with the school on a daily basis. Introduce yourself to the school nurse on a more personal level, and make sure she knows who you and your child are. Become a member of support groups in your area. Be recognized and heard by the school system. The power of numbers is incredible, and you will find that there will be a great deal of children in any school system that has at least one food allergy, if not more. Do not attempt to carry this load by yourself.
Most importantly, talk to your child. Even having open lines of communication with the school system, doesn’t guarantee that every measure is being taken to keep your child safe at school. Things DO fall through the cracks, unfortunately. Your child is the one that can accurately share what is, or what isn’t, being done at school. If you find that there are certain precautions that are not being adhered to, you have several options available to you. The first, of course, would be to schedule a meeting with the principal to discuss what has been brought to your attention. It may be a simple fix due to an oversight. Most importantly, if you have obtained a Section 504 Plan for your child, the school is most likely obtaining additional federal funding. Always keep this in mind. There may be times when school administration considers your requests ‘out of reach’ or ‘ridiculous’. Stand your ground! The 504 Plan provides parents the right to ask the school to do something, or to not do something, if it pertains to the safety of your child. You also have the right to move up the chain of command if the school isn’t cooperating with you.
Do not be afraid to ‘make noise’. This is your child’s health at stake, and no one is going to be as adamant as you are regarding their safety in the school system.