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It’s January…aka preschool and kindergarten registration time!

Posted Jan 03 2010 8:15am

Happy New Year! It’s the time of year to start thinking about registration for preschool and kindergarten in 2010-11.Hard to believe I know, but the sooner you get started in this process, the easier it will be. All four of my children have had IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) and Section 504 Plans so for me this process always took a bit more time and work. Registering your food allergic child for preschool is particularily difficult and can be overwhelming. Snack time is a big part of a preschool curriculum. Here are some of my favorite tips on how to ensure your FA child’s safety and inclusion in their class:

  1. Set up a meeting with the Preschool Director or School Principal first. I have found that the fastest route to get getting the most accurate information on school procedures and policies is to have a face to face meeting with the preschool director or school principal. Keep the meeting brief, but be sure to educate them about the severity of your child’s allergies, and ask for specific information in how the school handles snack time, birthday parties, class parties and food allergy reactions/emergencies. Discuss what modifications can be made to the individual classroom your child will be in, i.e. designating a Peanut Free Room, or only allow certain snacks to be brought into the classroom that are allergen safe.
  2. Schedule a meeting to determine your child’s eligibility for a Section 504 Plan. This document is CRITICAL in managing your rights as a parent and for keeping your FA child safe at school. Children with food allergies can be considered “disabled” under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It requires schools to provide “free, appropriate education” regardless of any condition, physical, mental or emotional. A FA child’s personal safety is compromised if dangerous food allergens are present in a classroom, and therefore could fall into this category. Young children cannot be their own advocates, therefore it is essential to have this legal document on file at their school. It protects them, and holds the school accountable for safe practices in dealing with snack time, etc.
  3. Discuss a Snack Time Policy with the staff NOW, so there is no confusion later. When my son John first started preschool at age 2, I admit I was still naive to the whole snack time process, and how it would eventually be difficult to police everything that came into the classroom. I gave a list of approved snack items that parents were able to send in, but learned the hard way that ingredients change in a moment’s notice, and non-FA parents aren’t going to read the labels as closely as you or I would. If you’re dealing with multiple food allergies, the best policy is fresh fruit, dried fruit and veggies at snack time. Arrange for the teacher to send this letter out at the beginning of the school year, so everyone is on the same page from day one.
  4. Write a Food Allergy Action Plan with your child’s school. This document can be downloaded at www.foodallergy.org (FAAN). It includes a step by step process on how to handle a food allergic reaction should one occur at school. This document, along with a 504 Plan is critical in keeping your child safe at school.
  5. Talk with you child about their food allergies and eating at school. Your child may have some fears about eating away from the safety of their home. This is especially true for children who have gone through the terrifying experience of an anaphylactic reaction. Ease their fears, tell them you are working with their school to set up rules to keep them safe and remind them that school is a fun, safe place to be.

Most of what I learned about navigating through the process of sending a FA child to school was through trial and error. Like many of you, I’ve faced parents and teachers who were willing to help, and others who never understood the seriousness of food allergies. I think the more I tried to educate about food allergies in general the better. It’s hard to keep your emotions in check when discussing the life and death issue of keeping your child safe. But it is best to keep all discussions with school personnel neutral and on a matter-of-fact level. I’ve found school administrators are more responsive this way. Good luck and let me know what tips have worked for you!

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