A food allergy is a “potentially serious immune response to eating specific foods or food additives” as reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Reactions to allergenic foods range from a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, hives, and anaphylactic shock, which may be fatal. The CDC noted that “Eight types of food account for over 90% of allergic reactions in affected individuals: milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat.” “In 2007, approximately three million children under age 18 years (3.9%) were reported to have a food allergy.” These numbers may seem small, but the effects of these allergies can be significant. Individuals with allergies may entrust bystanders with their lives during allergen flares, especially school aged children who count on school systems to keep them safe.
Hazing in the lunch line
Keeping children with allergies safe is often not as easy as it seems – school bullies prey on these children’s differences, no matter how minor they are. The most dangerous form of harassment occurs when kids contaminate others food with the allergen, such as when bullies sneak undetectable amounts of a trigger into another child’s lunch when no one else is looking – causing the victim emotional and physical harm. The Washington Post reported on one such story where two girls intentionally touched pineapple, and then high-fived a girl with a serious pineapple allergy during a lunch period. The victim’s allergy was not a secret to her harassers, or the rest of the school. The victim had to be transported to her local hospital, and the bullies await aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy charges in juvenile court. A growing number of victims in these types of cases are involving police and pressing charges, accounting for emotional and physical harm.
These incidents may seem like a joke to classmates, or an inconvenience for teachers and staff members – but they are naïve. Students who suffer from severe allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis, a reaction, that if left untreated, “can turn deadly in less than 15 minutes,” states Healthline. Symptoms start mildly, with a cough, itchiness, or difficulty swallowing. Within minutes of exposure to an allergen, victims may experience low blood pressure, unconsciousness, severe swelling of the body, and loss of oxygen. In most situations, an epinephrine auto injector (Epipen) can be used to temporarily manage symptoms. Depending on the severity of the reaction, bystanders may immediately call 911 for emergency care after administering the syringe. Doctors will monitor the victim and may administer a second dose of the injection, as symptoms may become unexpectedly worse over time.
On October 20, 2013, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published the first national guidelines for management of food allergies in schools. Eighteen States – Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia – have adopted their own protocols. Pennsylvania encourages the creation of allergy-free zones in classrooms and cafeterias. Additionally, administration must develop protocols for the cleaning of school grounds after events with food, such as fundraisers or holiday parties. Most importantly, guidelines state that staff should be trained to recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction, and follow emergency procedures put in place by a medical professional.
Students with allergies in the USA are entitled to two types of “action plans” to keep them safe: the Emergency Care Plan (ECP), and an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP). An Emergency Care Plan is written by doctors in simple terms for school personnel to follow. This document includes a list of allergens to avoid, and which require medical treatment. It is to be used in times of crisis only. An Individual Healthcare Plan is written by medical professionals, educators, the family, and student. This plan outlines what the school will do to maintain a safe environment for the child with regards to their allergies. This holds school districts accountable for their actions and the well-being of their students.
These measures are used to ensure that kids with and without allergies can coexist comfortably and safely in their school environment. These allergies are often inactive on an everyday basis, but with the proper understanding of allergies within school walls – we can minimize the physical and emotional distress suffered by students.