Archive for April, 2005

Allergy-aware School Search

Well it has been one month since my last entry, and a lot has happened during that time. The topic which has dominated the conversations in our household has been SCHOOL.

We have been to visit a several schools, both in and out of our local vicinity. We have visited both private and public schools to get a clearer indication of what is out there, and the varying attitudes of both establishments. All schools have had experience with anaphylaxis… peanut anaphylaxis. It was nice to be able to discuss the issue, without having to convince the schools that this is a real issue, and we are not simply over-protective, over-reactive parents. They were aware of the condition. All principals however, had not encountered a student with dairy anaphylaxis. A couple of principals were overwhelmed with the endless opportunities for exposure to dairy. We didn’t need to hear this!! We knew already! It was reassuring though that they understood the gravity of the situation, and were able to identify risks, then put forward management strategies where possible.

Each school is very different from the next, in almost every way imaginable. We have one school a 15 second drive away, with a large population, good lunchtime routines where they play before they eat at big lunch (reducing contact reaction rates), tuckshop 5 days a week, taps in the classrooms and 1 small toilet block for all students. Another school is 5 minutes away with half the population, typical lunchtime routine of eat first play later (increasing the chance of a contact reaction every lunchtime), tuckshop 3 days a week (leaving 2 days a week where their would be minimal spills of milk drinks and ice blocks), taps in the classrooms and great toilets where each one is fully contained with its own toilet, taps and mirror.

Some schools had ‘banned’ peanuts for their peanut anaphylactic students, but stated they would not be able to do the same with dairy. Other schools had not ‘banned’ peanuts, and wouldn’t ‘ban’ dairy either. We never asked if the schools would do this, and we simply couldn’t trust the majority of the school community to abide by a dairy ‘ban’ anyway.

One private school had funding to employ a teacher aide to shadow their existing anaphylactic (peanut) children during lunch breaks. This sounded a good idea at first, but when we heard that these two kids must do exactly the same activities, play in the same area, at the same time and basically be joined at the hip, we thought this was not a very liberal way for them to enjoy their free time. It is tempting though, to know they are constantly monitored. At the private schools, the teachers carry mobile phones or walkie-talkies when on playground duty, which we feel adds an extra level of management during high risk times.

We feel that at some schools the anaphylactic kids were singled-out – with their safety and easier management for the staff being the major factors. It is also making them targets for bullying and teasing, as it openly demonstrates their different needs.

There are advantages and disadvantages at all of the schools we have seen so far. With dairy being so abundant wherever we choose, I feel that the high risk time is in the breaks. From what we have gathered, all schools are happy to implement hand washing routines as the kids enter the classrooms after lunch, to keep the classroom an allergy-free zone. After all it is the only place where such efforts can be made. Some facilities are better than others to accommodate this need.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. I am a planner and organiser at heart. I sift through my lists of pros and cons and I hope an answer will become clear to me soon.