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Food Allergies: What School Employees Need to Know

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By Nora L. Howley, Manager of Programs, NEA Health Information Network 

The fourth-grade class at Shadyside Elementary is having a birthday party. Selena just ate a cookie brought into the class by parent of one of her classmates.  All of a sudden she notices a rash and gives on her arms. She begins to feel short of breath, so she lets Pam the Paraeducator know that something is wrong  

Next week is Halloween. For many classrooms, it is the first celebration of the year.  But for approximately six million children in the United States who have one or more food allergies, this party could be a life-threatening experience. Is your school ready? 

Food allergies are abnormal immune responses.  In a person with a food allergy, the immune system mistakenly responds to a food as if it were harmful. Sometimes these reactions are life-threatening.  While many foods can trigger an allergic reaction, eight foods are responsible for 90% of reactions. 

So what should school leaders and staff do to be prepared for food allergy reactions? 

First, managing and preventing food allergies requires a team approach.  It involves all school staff, parents/guardians, health care providers, and students themselves.  It involves having sound food allergy policies as well as making sure that all schools have a food allergy management plan (FAMPP) in place.  A good FAMMP ensures that all staff is trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of a food allergy reaction and to respond appropriately. 

Here is how Shadyside Elementary makes sure it is ready for students with food allergies

It’s staff meeting time at Shadyside Elementary School.   The principal calls the meeting to order and reminds all the staff that food allergies are everyone’s concern.  The school nurse reports on the work of the food allergy team.  The team has met with a number of staff to make sure that the school’s FAMMP is being implemented. She also reports that the families of 10 new students have provided her with information on their child’s food allergies and they have supplied her with their child’s prescribed epinephrine auto-injector. She has also met with the food service manager to make sure that all the accommodation forms for school meals are up to date and that the cafeteria staff is trained. 

A teacher and a paraeductor from the food allergy team share the letter they have created that will go to parents and guardians next week.  It explains what foods can and cannot be provided for the upcoming Halloween Party.  They also discuss how “room parents” will review all food sent in to make sure it is compliant.

A bus driver and custodian who also serve on the food allergy team share information on the trainings the district has provided for them  on recognizing the symptoms of an allergic reaction, how to administer epinephrine, and how to clean surfaces safely to reduce the risk of and how to clean surfaces to help remove food allergens.   

Finally, the counselor reminds staff that she will be working with the student government to incorporate food allergies into the schools anti-bullying campaign.  She is also scheduling a meeting with the part-time coaches and after-school staff to make sure they are up to date on the FAMMP. 

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s not or doesn’t have to be. Schools all around the country are working to create safe schools for students with food allergies. To help educate the entire school community about food allergies in the school environment, NEA HIN, with support from the US Department of Agriculture, has produced The Food Allergy Book: What School Employees Need to KnowThe guide is offered in both English and Spanish is available online and in hard copy


Editor’s Note: This post is from our partners at the NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN). Each month, we feature a new column on a topic related to school health. Through this effort, we hope to inform the public of important health issues that impact schools and offer educators and parents resources to address them.

Image taken from the cover of  The Food Allergy Book: What School Employees Need to Know