We have one, and it’s the greatest group of advocates our school district has ever had to increase education and awareness of food allergies, and to keep children with life-threatening food allergies safe at school.
Life Before the Task Force
Before our task force was created, each parent of a child with food allergies had to train the teacher and school administrators about food allergies and what accommodations would be necessary to keep their individual child safe. In a district of over 23,000 students, we had almost 300 students with food allergies in 2007 when the Task Force was created. Today, in 2013, there are over 600 students with food allergies in our school district. The number continues to increase every year.
Each school was trying to develop its own set of best practices, yet there was no systematic way to share information about successes and challenges from one school in the district to another. Each time a new student with food allergies showed up at a school, there was another reinvention of the wheel.
How the Task Force Came into Existence
Some parents of children with food allergies became frustrated and sent letters and e-mails to the superintendent and school board, asking that a standard set of guidelines be developed to assist every school in our district to appropriately manage food allergies. Our school district, Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, formed a Food Allergy Task Force in response to these concerns. The school district’s superintendent supported and encouraged the group’s work.
Who’s Part of the Task Force?
Founding members included three principals (one from each level), five parents, a school nurse, the food services director, the district Section 504 coordinator, the director for legal relations and the chief operating officer. It was important to include all of these stakeholders to ensure that information was gathered to create complete guidelines for a child in the classroom, on the school bus and in the cafeteria – to name just a few. Since the group formed, others have joined, including a local physician specializing in treating children with severe allergies and asthma, three parents and two more school nurses. Members come and go depending upon new topics that come up in our school district and/or state. More and more school nurses attend the meetings over the years, since they continue to be faced with managing the treatment plans of more and more children with food allergies!
What the Task Force Does
Our Task Force submitted recommendations to the superintendent for policy revisions and guidelines for protecting children with severe allergies. Those guidelines were implemented by all schools in the district the following year. (You can review these guidelines here.)
This implementation effort involved collaboration and cooperation between school administrators and school nurses. Nurses train all district staff (including bus drivers, cafeteria staff, teachers, etc) on how to recognize symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to administer an epinephrine autoinjector.
The Task Force continues to meet approximately two to three times a year to evaluate how things are going in our schools and to provide support to members. The success of our Task Force in creating guidelines was used as a foundation for The Colorado Schoolchildren’s Asthma and Anaphylaxis Act of 2009. This act requires the Colorado State Board of Education to promulgate rules for the management of food allergies and anaphylaxis among students enrolled in public and charter schools in the state.
The Task Force hosted a Food Allergy Summit promoting awareness of life-threatening allergies and asthma in both 2010 and again in 2012. The keynote speaker in 2010 was a physician in internal medicine, allergy and immunology, who is also an Anaphylaxis Community Expert (ACE). A panel discussion followed his remarks, providing perspectives from two students, one elementary and one high school, a principal and two teachers, a school nurse, a school attorney, the food services director, and a parent on how to keep severely allergic children safe in school.
More than 120 parents and students attended and the task force is committed to continuing efforts to raise awareness about the need to protect children with severe, life-threatening allergies in our schools.
In 2012, the Food Allergy Summit included information about the psychological impacts of food allergies and helped students with food allergies learn how to self-advocate with a question and answer session for them to practice with difficult situations presented for them to resolve. Students got to meet other kids “just like me” and parents were able to meet with other families facing similar challenges and successes.
Our school district was the first to create a Food Allergy Task Force. Since then, there have been at least two other districts in Colorado that have also created one. The result: more children with life-threatening food allergies are safe at school! Will your district be next?