Classroom food policies

Posted on: Wed, 05/19/1999 - 12:20am
Kurt's picture
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Joined: 05/19/1999 - 09:00

I am currently working with staff at our local elementary school to prepare a Section 504 plan for my daughter, who will be entering kindergarten in September. Rather than feeling smug about having started "early", I now see that January would've been far better than April. As anyone here knows, there's a steep learning curve involved with taking people from zero to sixty on this issue. Although the administrative people I've been working with have been absolutely terrific, the teaching staff appears to be a lot more resistant and at this point is still substituting panic for planning. Needless to say, I'm more than a little worried about having the teacher in handwringing mode by the time my daughter is relying on her for her safekeeping every day.

Most of our concerns have been handled wonderfully by the school nurse and the 504 officer, and the plan is shaping up well in most respects, but the really difficult issues surrounding food in the classroom are causing a lot of conflict. The teacher involved has not been able to help with identifying any approaches that are both reasonable from her perspective and usably protective from ours, and I've been asked to seek strategies that are in use elsewhere.

What I had initally asked for was an enforceable policy that would eliminate all peanut risks from the classroom. Currently, all kids in early grades and even a few right up through grade five eat scheduled snacks in the classroom. I have submitted a fairly long list of brand-name-specific "safe" foods in most of the expected categories (crackers, cookies, etc.)
and am committed to revisiting the ingredient lists on a regular basis. Beyond this, my own daughter will still only eat what we send in each day with her. We've been told that the snack list will be useful, but that they feel that they can do no more than strongly request that it be adhered to by other parents. I think that this will provide us with a significant amount of protection, if not so much as we would prefer, and I'm becoming inclined to accept the approach, at least for now. The real problem appears to be "parties".

Something seems to have changed since my school days, and IMO smacks a little of inmates running the asylum. From what I've been told, not only are there the expected school-sponsored soirees at a few major holidays, but most children appear to be having in-school birthday celebrations, which in turn seem to be bringing out that "keeping up with the Joneses" impulse that I appreciate so much in other parents.
The message I'm getting is that attempting to eliminate a no-holds-barred approach to Mom's baking creativity is going to produce tidal waves of negative public opinion and possibly bring about the demise of Western civilization. The teacher actually said to me, "You wouldn't believe the gossip since the other teachers found out about your daughter. They're asking me, whatever are you going to do? You can't just not have parties!!"

In the aftermath of that statement I think I took on a stunned appearance and was pretty much incapable of rational thought for the rest of the meeting. I did try to present the notion that snack food and party food are chemically identical, but this did not seem to register with the desired impact.

In the end, while I feel I must do everything I can to build as many protective layers as I can around my little girl, she won't be served well by us needlessly antagonizing other parents or developing hostile relationships with the people I must somehow trust to care for her. I need to find a way to compromise with these folks in a way that answers their concerns, does not present an unacceptable danger to her, and yet does not attempt to put her in the plastic bubble scenario. I want to appear as reasonable as I can, but on this party issue I seem to have blinders on. We certainly can neither pull her out of school twenty days a year, nor can we personally cater twenty parties. Any suggestions any of you have about what's worked best for you on this issue (other than always providing all party food) would be greatly appreciated...we're at a very unpleasant impasse.

I'd also like to say, briefly, that I haven't been back to this site in quite some months because I didn't think there was a whole lot here. Looking at just this one discussion board today, I've done a 180 degree change of heart on that subject and want to say "thanks" to everyone who's been contributing and from whom I've already learned today.

Posted on: Wed, 05/19/1999 - 2:14am
Greg's picture
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Joined: 01/16/1999 - 09:00

Sounds like your the first family in your school to take peanut allergies serious. We ran into the same thing at our school. I'm glad to hear the school nurse is on board. Above all she is the most important person to have on your side at the school. First and foremost what needs to be pointed out to the teachers is that a classroom is exactly that. A room for class..reading,writing etc. It is not a lunchroom and classwork takes prevalence above all in a classroom. The presence of peanuts will prevent your daughter from participating in the classwork and therefore NEEDS/Has to be removed just as stairs would need to be removed to allow child in a wheelchair access to the classroom. We told our school in no uncertain terms that we would accept nothing less than a total ban of peanuts in her classroom (this includes any off hours use of the classroom). I should point out that this stance came AFTER a couple of terrifyingly close calls in her Kindergarten classroom where we had taken the same attitude as you are inclining towards in regards to snacks. Our daughter is only with us these days because a mother who knows us happened to see our daughter about to eat a candy (half chocolate,half peanut butter) on her way out at the end of the day. Pure luck that the two crossed paths. I can't emphasize enough the need to totally remove peanuts from the classroom. What people need to remember that these children are only 5,6 years old, they are in a classroom to learn(the lunchroom is a different story) and they are under the teachers care during that time whether the teacher likes it or not. It is up to the teacher to see that your child remains safe, bottom line. The teacher in my daughter's class,2nd grade, checks every childs snack at snack time. If it is not on the approved list they can either choose not to eat snack or move to another monitored room set aside for these children,though this room just happened to be handy. Last year the child simply was not allowed to eat their snack. One of the best things to come about from this situation is the response we had from virtually all the parents. We gave our Phone # to all the parents in the class and asked them to call if they ever had any questions. The response was very encouraging. Parents called to double check what they bought, to get tips on peanut free baking (we had one mother actually go out and by brand new cake pans just to be sure there was no peanut residue on them) and just to ask questions on the allergy itself. There were two families who became agitated that their child could not eat his/her favorite snack at snack time. They were told that if they insisted on that stance that snack time would be eliminated for all,that snack time was not a required part of the classroom curriculum. It worked. The way me and my wife handle these birthday/holiday parties is to provide a "safe" list of the various baking mixes ie cake,brownie,cookie..that can be used for baked goods brought into the classroom. With a lot of work on my wife's part we were able to come up with and maintain a sizeable list of mixes that allowed the other childrens parent more than enough items to work with. However every parent is reminded around the time of their childs birthday that any form of peanuts will not be allowed in the classroom. We were given a list of all the children's birthdays so we could be prepared for any surprise parties. We keep a supply of our daughter's favorite cupcakes in the freezer and on the day of parties we send one in with her to eat. After the party the classroom is thoroughly washed and cleaned. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending how you look at it) a peanut allergic child forces the parents to become much more involved in the childs class. We bake for most,but not all holiday parties, we go along on every field trip, we became very active in the PTA in an effort to influence things from that end and we contact the teacher and school nurse almost daily to make sure that "false sense of security"(I hate that sentence) never sets in. Of course after all these precautions we act like there is no precautions at all. Like you,our daughter only eats what we send in ,is not allowed to share any food, and washes her hands regularly during the day.
I wouldn't worry too much about the world coming to an end. I don't think some teachers give enough credit to the parents ability to understand and one of the most overlooked things for children this age is their ability to go with the flow. Many of our parents told us it was their own childs interest and genuine concern for our daughters safety that brought them around. It has been a pleasant surprise.

Posted on: Thu, 05/20/1999 - 1:48pm
Les's picture
Les
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Joined: 04/14/1999 - 09:00

I also have a son entering kindergarden and we just finished with our 504 meeting today. They have been wonderful, theteacher and the principal together decided to take the risk out of the room all together, they are going to completely eliminate birthday snacks and instead suggest that if that particular child wanted to bring something, that they pick out a school supply or book to donate to the class. They will still acknowledge that childs birthday, but the treat would be eliminated. As was said before, the kids are there for learning and even though it is fun to celebrate there birthday with their school friends - a 'treat' isn't the only way to do that. This gave us great ease of mind - and I felt it a good solution for everyone.

Posted on: Thu, 05/20/1999 - 9:36pm
BCouch's picture
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Joined: 05/18/1999 - 09:00

Wow, these are some great suggestions! I am currently working on documents to bring to our IEP on Mon a.m.5/24 and I will use some of these suggestions. They were going to wait until August!! I am really mixed on the peanut free snack issue...do you want all snack labeled "...may contain traces of peanuts" considered off limits or just the peanut butter variety itself? e.g. Rice Krispie Treat Bars....also I have never checked baked good mixes, cake, cookie or otherwise because I bake from scratch. I would be willing to share my list of items off limits if you are intersted. I'd like to know of others. Thanks. Keep up the good work

Posted on: Fri, 05/21/1999 - 1:23am
carrie's picture
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Joined: 05/15/1999 - 09:00

I am interested in your list of "off limits" so that I also can check out your items. I am new to this as my son has only been diagnowed with the allergy for a month or so. I also would love to share. Why reinvent the wheel all the time? I, of course, would only feed my son things that I have checked out, but would love to see some things that you have found so that I can also investigate. My son will be entering a nursery school that hopefully is as cooperative as we are feling they are. No peanut/nut snacks will be allowed and my friend and I will be working very closely with them on the snack list(she also as an allergic child). He'll be entering kindergarten in year 2000.
Thanks and I look forward to sharing!Carrie

Posted on: Wed, 05/26/1999 - 10:42pm
Kurt's picture
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Joined: 05/19/1999 - 09:00

Sorry for taking so long to respond and send thanks to those who took time to write. To be honest, I was expecting and hoping for a lot more on a subject which seems to interest so many members, and was figuring on waiting for more responses...but any longer would be kind of rude.
Greg: many thanks for all the detail. The
mention of off-hours classroom use and procuring birthday lists were things I hadn't thought of and will definitely seek to incorporate. It's great to hear that the reaction of other parents has been so supportive for you. I do have a couple of questions, though, and hope you can answer:
1. How did your daughter end up with a peanut candy? If there's no food sharing and she eats only what comes from home, was this simply a matter of a small child not following a rule for whatever reason? If so,
I'm not sure how the distinction between a out-and-out "ban" and a "stringly request" type of approach applies. I'd like to understand what happened here and your viewpoint relative to it a little better.
2. How is the teacher able to make manageable a "check every snack" approach? Although I hope to implement the same thing, I've been quite concerned about 20 different kids with 20 different items coming in and what that means in terms of realistic ability of the teacher or aide to feel certain of what they're seeing. I'm sure in the absence of some kind of policy requirement, there'll be plenty of loose crackers, cookies, etc. arriving in paper bags and baggies without ingredient lists.
How have you helped your teacher to manage this with mutual condfidence?
Les: I would LOVE to get my school on board with a no-food birthday celebration. I would also love it if we had world peace tomorrow. In my "negotiations" so far, this had been the single most emotional issue. Hard to believe. Did this require unusual or special effort for you or was your audience more receptive? Would be interested in hearing any insights on the circumstances you were operating under and how you managed this one.
3. Snack lists: Although we will be trying to work with one of these ourselves, I really don't want to share it, and I'll tell you why. I assembled a list of perhaps 60 or 70 specific products based on several hours' research in a supermarket. I then looked at other resources such as the Food Manufacturers forum on this site. Many of the foods I had selected were subject to some sort of concern published there, such as unlabeled cross-contamination, confusing and contradictory statements by customer service representatives, the question of whether ALL chocolate should be considered unsafe, the question of whether the safety standard should be just a nut-free line or an entirely nut-free manufacturing facility... I could go on and on, and in fact I guess I have. My point is that there's not all that much in the way of perfect info from manufacturers, and different parents choose very different levels of acceptable risk. I would not be at all comfortable with someone taking a possibly flawed, from some perspectives, list of mine and subsequently either feeling that they'd gotten a dangerous recommendation from me or God forbid finding themselves dealing with a reaction that occurred because my personal position on peanut dust in manufacturing plants was just plain wrong. I'm not comfortable enough that my own current conceptions are "right" that I would want anyone else to accept them. Far better to undergo the same process of reading and comparing different viewpoints and then arrive at one you're personally comfortable will best support your child. I'd like to save somebody all that time and effort, but don't think it would yield a proper result.

Posted on: Thu, 05/27/1999 - 3:33am
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Joined: 01/16/1999 - 09:00

Hi Kurt,
Good questions, I hope I can give you some satisfactory answers. My daughters encounter with the peanut candy came during her kindergarten year when me and my wife were fairly ignorant about the peanut allergy issue. We had not wanted to rock the boat,so to speak, and we had assumed that informing the principal,school nurse, and her teacher about her allergy would be enough along with a "no share' policy. However what we didn't consider was the inability of the teacher to grasp the seriousness of the allergy. Before christmas she had the class make peanut butter reindeer sandwiches and gave jelly to our daughter to use of course with all that peanut butter everywhere it was only a matter of moments before she suffered a severe reaction and ended up in the ER. After that episode we had a meeting to ensure that they knew how serious this allergy was. Once again assuming (big mistake) that they learned their lesson this same teacher gave our daughter the peanut butter candy(thus foiling the no sharing policy) for valentine's day with the instructions that the children were not to eat it until they left the classroom at the end of the day.This is where the mother saw our daughter literally about to pop the candy into her mouth, in the hallway walking to the bus. I shudder to think what would have happened had she gotten on the bus after eating it. This is when we realized that we needed to set a policy keeping all peanut products from the classroom,teacher included. There is no doubt that having the teacher check all snacks is extra work for them. It can be a great help if one of the teachers volunteers to take on a peanut allergic child. Our daughter's 1st and 2nd grade teachers both stepped forward and agreed to take responsibilty and it showed in their attitudes all year long. Like many things once this routine has been going for a few week it becomes just that, another one of the many routines that go on in school. The children get used to presenting their snack to the teacher one by one. The teacher get to know us and the list of "safe snacks" (more about that later) and it only takes a child telling their parent once or twice that they were unable to eat their snack because it wasn't approved, before they start paying attention to what they send in. Needless to say most of what gets eaten is fresh fruit,a boon to the kids. The point is, in no time at all, the "snack check" is little or no trouble to all involved. Further by talking to our daughter and the teacher throughout the year we can ensure that this setup is indeed working at keeping dangerous foods out of the classroom, and it does. Now in regards to the "safe snack" list. It would be nice to be able to keep all possible peanut contamination out of the classroom, but that is just not possible. The safe snack list we provide and update is mostly a way to keep all blatent snacks(peanut butter sandwiches,Reeses peanut butter cups etc..) and also the items that have a "may contain peanuts"(plain M&M's...) out of the classroom. These are the items we are most concerned about since and accident with one of these snacks would almost surely result in tragedy. We keep the list relatively small(10 - 15 items not counting fruit) so as not to overwhelm the teacher, and to the best of our knowledge they are peanut free. No homebaked or loose unlabeled items(except fruit and veg.) are allowed. Again it is necessary to point out to the parents that this ONLY pertains to the mid-morning classroom snack. The children are free to eat anything they want at lunch time. If Jimmy really wanted to eat one of his mothers homemade cookies at school, he can, at lunch time. With our constantly updating and changing the list, the teacher feels confident enforcing it, and it lets her feel that she's not doing this alone.

Posted on: Wed, 06/09/1999 - 4:32am
Lidia's picture
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Joined: 04/25/1999 - 09:00

The issue of snack time is always a difficult one. If the classroom is "peanut free" and the allergic child only eats his/her own snacks this should work well. My concern is the cafeteria. My son has reacted to peanut brittle airdust. I can only hope he doesn't react when in a cafeteria w/ an unknown amount of peanut butter sandwiches. The school lunches are peanut free, but there is no ban on what children can bring in from home. I want him to be a part of the "cafeteria experience". Has anyone wondered about this or know of testing to determine if he "will "react in this setting? He came out a #6 on the rast and has never fully ingested a peanut product to our knowledge.

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