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What Teachers Should Know About Their Students with Food Allergies

If you haven’t had a student with a food allergy in your classroom yet, odds are you soon will. For reasons that aren’t completely understood, the incidence of food allergies is increasing. One in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom, has a food allergy.

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As a school teacher, you will need to know how to help your students with food allergies be safe and included at school.

Here are 10 things you should know:

  1. What are your students allergic to and what are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

    As the teacher of a student with food allergy, it is critical you know the food(s) he or she must avoid, the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, and the unique ways children might describe an allergic reaction.

  1. How to respond if your student has an allergic reaction.

    Each student with a food allergy should have an emergency care plan that will give direction for responding to food allergy reactions. Follow that plan.

  1. How to administer epinephrine.

    The recommended first line treatment for anaphylaxis is the prompt use of epinephrine, typically given by auto-injector. After epinephrine has been injected, immediately call 911 to notify them of the situation.

  1. Information about what accommodations are outlined in their 504 plan.

    Students with life-threatening food allergies may have Section 504 or Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) plans, which provide for classroom and school accommodations. Accommodation plans are individual and will vary from student to student. Sample accommodations:

  • Classmates and teachers must wash their hands with soap and water after eating.
  • None of the student’s allergens should be eaten in the classroom.
  1. What rights are afforded to students with food allergies?

    There are federal laws and regulations in place to protect students whose food allergies may constitute a disability. Students with food allergies have a legal right to safely access school activities.

  1. How to help students manage their own allergies.

    Teachers can help students manage their food allergy and prevent allergic reactions by encouraging them to advocate for themselves and recognize a potentially dangerous situation. Create a classroom environment where all students are aware of food allergies and supportive of their classmates with food allergies.

  1. The possible effects of food allergies on the child’s behavior and ability to learn. 

    Students with food allergies have more on their minds than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. They have to avoid foods they are allergic to, knowing that if they fail to do so, it could send them to the emergency room. This extra responsibility could cause anxiety and stress, impacting the student’s ability to learn.

    Teachers can help by becoming well-informed about their student’s food allergy. Learn the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction. Get trained on how to administer epinephrine. Make accommodations in the classroom to keep students safe. Be a “safety net” for your students.

  1. How to give emotional support if a reaction does occur.

    If an allergic reaction does occur, it is important to give emotional support to the student and their classmates during and after an allergic reaction. There may be a heightened sense of fear and anxiety after a reaction. Work with school counselors and other mental health staff to address these concerns.

  1. Common risk factors, triggers and areas of exposure to the child’s allergies.

    Classrooms can be a high-risk setting for students with food allergies:

  • Celebrations and parties
  • Non-food items that may contain food allergens such as: modeling clay, finger paint, science kits, bird feed and more
  • Not using proper hand washing techniques; hand sanitizers are not effective for removing allergen protein residue
  • Sharing or trading of food, drinks, or personal items
  • Classroom tables that are not properly cleaned
  • Substitute teaching staff being unaware of the food allergic student
  1. Specific strategies for fully integrating children with food allergies into all activities.

    There are many practices and accommodations that teachers can make to help keep students safely included:

  • Keeping the classroom food-free
  • Avoiding the use of identified allergens in class projects, arts, crafts and science experiments
  • Finding safe and inclusive ways to celebrate
  • Using non-food incentives for prizes, gifts and awards
  • Encouraging children to wash hands before and after handling or consuming food
  • Finding a location that is safe with children with food allergies for field trips

Knowing these 10 things about your students with food allergies will help you stay knowledgeable and vigilant.

Learn more about managing food allergies at school here.

Additional Resources for Teachers

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