With food allergies on the rise, many schools are implementing food policies requiring that any food brought into the classroom (whether for a child’s birthday or a class activity) be store-bought and free of nuts, eggs, gluten or any combination of the above. Some schools are not allowing food at all in their classrooms, while others are simply implementing a strict peanut/nut ban on the school entirely.
Figuring out which policy is best for your school or classroom is only half the battle. Getting all the staff and families on board with your policy is something else entirely!
If you want to implement a food policy that teachers, parents and students can easily get on board with regardless of whether or not they have food allergies, consider these five helpful tips:
- Do your research: Learn everything you can about food allergies, the risks involved, cross-contact issues, the CDC guidelines, and how to handle emergency anaphylactic situations.
- Consider the needs of the children at your school: Since every child is different, find out what specific food allergies and intolerances exist among your students, the severity of each of these allergies, and any 504 plans requiring special accommodations that may be in place. Consider the social and emotional needs for both the food allergic children and the non-allergic children that may be affected by witnessing an anaphylactic emergency as well as bullying risks that might become more prevalent as extreme policies are put in place.
- Consider your capacity to handle each specific situation: Is your staff properly trained to handle anaphylactic emergencies and do they feel comfortable doing so or would they rather not take the risk? Is your staff capable of adequately meeting the specific needs of each student in your school or class? What about when substitute teachers are responsible for the students? While in the discovery process, remember to solicit feedback from all parties that may be affected by your policy decision.
- Educate and empower parents and staff: Once you have decided on a policy, create a communication plan that (while keeping specific details confidential) clearly explains to all staff, students, and parents at the school your reasons for the specific food policy you have decided upon. Make sure all parties understand the seriousness of all the risks involved. And finally, go beyond laying out a simple list of rules or restrictions by providing parents and staff lists of ideas for celebrating and rewarding that are within the policy guidelines.
- Enforce your policy: Once the policy has been implemented, it needs to be enforced. If teachers or parents act in a way inconsistent with the policy, address it immediately.