HELP! Supervision in Cafeteria


How is your PA child supervised while eating in the school cafeteria? Nurse, teacher, aide, paraprofessional?

One of my 2 PA kids starts first grade a Maryland public school next week. My summer "negotations" have not yet secured adequate supervision for her lunch period in a peanuts-a-plenty lunchroom.

For the sake of her social and emotional health, I do not want her totally segregated at lunchtime. She should be in the cafeteria with other kids, not with adults in the office.

But my >100 RAST test daughter must not eat anything, ANYWHERE, without a trained adult ready and able to recognize and treat a reaction.

All summer, I've been discouraged by district staff from pursuing a 504 plan, and urged instead to create an Individual Health Plan, (which not coincidentally is handled through the health department, rather than the schools).

I think they feared the precedent of the district paying for an aide for one hour per day (lunch and recess), which seemed like the obvious solution to me. (There is a second PA child in her class who would also benefit.) The teachers by contract won't do lunch duty, the principal "can't spare" other staff, and the cafeteria aides say they can barely stop the food fights as it is.

In addition to sharing your solutions here, from any US state or Canada, would anyone who has gotten any kind of paid lunch aide or health technician at any public school in Maryland, PLEASE contact me ASAP at [email][/email] to share details. They said if I found a precedent in MD it would make a big difference.

Thanks for sharing how you've coped with this back-to-school challenge. I am one weary Mom. (My second PA child starts kindergarten the same day, at a different school!) Pam

On Aug 19, 2002

Pam, sorry I don't have any useful info for you, but I just want to tell you I have the same problem here in MA (I don't assume it's state-wide, though). The situations in the cafeteria, playground and schoolbus at my son's school are inadequate. Especially since my son is not allowed to wear his epipen.

If you have any luck finding a solution, I'd love to hear it.


On Aug 20, 2002

I had the same problem with my PA son's school. They had one person who watched ten classrooms at lunch which was not good enough for me.What we finally decided to do was that my older daughter who is ten (not PA) would monitor my son's classromm at lunch. She would go each day and bring a friend and was there to specifically watch my son. I realize that you may not have an older child but perhaps you could find an older student with a peanut allergy who could do this. I don't know if this helps at all but I think it is important that you find some resolution because lunch time is such a high risk time at school. Good luck, Tracey

On Aug 20, 2002

Hi Pam and welcome to the boards!

My PA son is in 3rd grade and a Paraprofessional is assigned to various tables in the cafeteria.

This is our procedure for lunch and it has worked really well for us:

He has a peanut-free (PF) table which is *connected* to the regular table. The PF table will hold 6 children (the entire table holds 30). He sits at the very end of the PF table so as not to be seated by someone who may have PB at the *regular* table.

He always sits in the same seat *facing* the Para's so they can watch him more closely. (The cafeteria has a strict "hand raising" rule if a child needs something. The head para in the cafeteria specifically told my son if he needs anything related to peanut butter, he has permission to get up and get any of the para's in there).

At dismissal from the lunch table, each child's hand is physically squirted with liquid soap so they *have* to go in the bathroom and wash their hands. (My son stays with a "Para" while the rest of the class is cleaning up in the bathroom so he isn't around the peanut butter during cleanup). He washes his hands back in the classroom.

THEN they line up in the cafeteria and head back to the classroom.

This procedure has worked for us since Kindergarten and we have not had a problem and my son is also *contact* sensitive and we have not had a problem.

------------------ Stay Safe!


On Aug 20, 2002

Connie, that sounds wonderfully effective. I love the soap squirting drill!

Who pays for the paraprofessional and did you have to fight for it? Is it under 504 or any formal plan? Is this para assigned to all FA kids in the school or just yours? And can you tell me (here or at [email][/email]) which school system or state has allowed this? Many thanks, you are my first beacon of hope!

On Aug 20, 2002

My daughter, who is now entering second grade, had a bad experience last year when a child sat next to her eating a PNB cracker snack that she had purchased from the school cafeteria. When the child refused to change her seat, my daughter asked the lunchroom attendant for help. The attendant blew her off, saying "Not now honey, I'm kind of busy here." Colleen was ordered to return to her seat, where she spent the rest of the lunch period terrified that the other child would touch her. I notified the cafeteria manager and principal of the incident, and they agreed to stop selling packaged PNB snacks and to speak to the lunchroom attendants.

As a result of this experience, when I negotiated my daughter's 504 plan for the upcoming school year, I made sure that the following provisions were included:

-Packaged snacks that contain peanut ingredients shall not be sold in the school cafeteria.

-The lunchroom attendants shall closely monitor Colleen during the entire lunch period and shall immediately respond to any questions or concerns that she brings to their attention.

I initially met with some resistance from the school, but eventually they came around. Now we will see if they actually follow these provisions. I have found that the best way to ensure compliance is to make unannounced visits to the lunchroom several times a year. This keeps the staff on their toes and gives you the opportunity see what your child is up against every day. Good luck to you!

On Aug 20, 2002

Thanks, Colleen's Mom. I think monitoring by an existing school employee is where I'm probably headed, at least to begin. The lunchroom aides seem to answer to the principal, which makes the 504 route look best. (Of course, I've let the summer slip by and allowed the district to deter me from pursuing a 504 plan-- rookie mistake.)

The current lunch aides do not want this extra responsibility, and I can't blame them. Without special training and clear consequences, I do fear that your daughter's dangerous experience would be replicated in our school, with aides already overwhelmed by the chaos of the cafeteria.

It'll be up to the principal to make it work. Pam

On Aug 20, 2002

Hey Pam,

The Para's that work in the lunchroom are paid "teacher assistants" and they are assigned to all the classes that eat in the cafeteria on rotating schedules. They are assigned more than one class to look after at lunch but anyone of them can assist a child from any class.

I do not have a 504 in place. The only *official* thing I have is a dictated letter from my son's doctor regarding his peanut allergy and EpiPen and a written emergency care plan for the school to follow in case of an exposure.

This school has been fabulous when it comes to handling peanut allergy and my son's Kindergarten teacher is now Vice Principal of his school and she has been a tremendous asset to his needs.

Colleen's mom made an excellent point about dropping in unannounced and see what is happening at lunch. Make yourself known at the school if at all possible.

I didn't check your profile so I don't know if you work or not, but I'll tell you, I am a houswife and so I can pop in at anytime and I really feel for the working moms who can't just take off work whenever they want to check on things.

I volunteer once a week at the school and I have such a great support system there. I am very lucky. Some people on this board have had a terrible time with their school/school district and I just feel for them. My son is very fortunate to be able to attend this school. As great as things go, you still want to make your presence known and be able to pop in at any time in case someone new is there working.

We moved in December and they built a brand new elementary school around the corner from us and I wrote a two page letter to the school board to keep him at his present school because his 2nd grade teacher was moving with the same group of students to 3rd grade so this made his life much simpler and safer!

Oh, I forgot to mention we are in Florida.

------------------ Stay Safe!


[This message has been edited by Jazz It Up (edited August 20, 2002).]

On Aug 20, 2002

To Everyone and Connie (who I have not chatted with in a LONG time),

My son just started Kinder yesterday, with much apprehension from Mom. But, after various meetings at school, I feel fairly comfortable with the cafeteria situation. The cafeteria trays have been made peanut free (although I haven't yet let my pa son try them), and the director of the food services for the entire district met me there yesterday to assure me that she was very allergy aware and had read all labels. He has the first to lunch, and he is seated at the end of table that has been cleaned with bleach the night before. Only children with cafeteria trays are allowed to be seated near him. All the kids with lunches brought from home are seated at the end of the approx. 30 seat table. His classroom has been made peanut free, and I have provided a bag of safe snacks in case some have to be confiscated. I have an IEP on file (no 504). In addition,my allergist wrote a fairly strongly worded letter about strict avoidance of peanut products.

Good luck to all

On Sep 3, 2002

Hi, We have the same problem for our 6 year old twins who are both PA, just started 1st grade and are eating in the cafeteria for the first time this year. We had a separate Peanut free table set up, the school cleans the table thoroughly before lunch (1st graders are the first group at lunch) and the monitors were informed about their peanut allergy. The problem is there are only 2-3 monitors for well over 200 children! We had intended to let our children invite others to lunch with them when they do not have any peanut products but without adequate supervision don't know how to verify that only children without peanut foods will sit at the peanut free table. Even if we don't invite others to sit at the table without supervision we're afraid others will come to the table or our children will go visit the other tables - they are very aware of their allergy but our son quickly forgets or underestimates the dangers when he is in a room with other children.

The school has been cooperative and we have adopted an informal plan and are drafting a 504 but the school has said they don't have the funding to have an Aide specifically assigned to the Peanut free table as we have requested. To make matters worse, the children are released from lunch directly to the playground for 15 minutes of recess. We live in Arizona.

I would appreciate any feedback on this topic, for example how many children per monitor are typical in a school lunch room?


On Sep 3, 2002

I just got back from monitoring my first grader's first day in the lunchroom. I feel very worried.

Yes, he has a peanut-free "area" around him at his end of the table, but who will be monitoring this? It is so chaotic, crowded and noisy, and the lunchroom aides have so many kids to watch. The room is much too small and the kids are jammed together. Probably 120 kids (grades 1-4) in the first lunch period. There is one teacher and two assistants to monitor. After lunch the kids are dismissed directly to recess.

I met with the principal this morning. An epi-pen will be in the caf and the recess duty teacher will pick it up to take it out to recess. Hmmm. I wonder if they'll really remember? I shadowed my son to lunch and recess today and spoke with 2 of the teachers on duty. They didn't know much about what was going on with my son...guess I will continue going to lunch and recess with him until everyone knows the game plan.

Peanuts peanuts everywhere. A disabled boy was being fed peanut butter sandwich nearby (at a separate table) and it was quite messy and there was a strong odor of peanuts throughout the caf. Most of the packers seemed to have pb. Didn't seem to bother my son. Two of his classmates picked up and moved when they saw my son--they remember about his peanut allergy from last year, and they know not to sit near him with pb. The kids are so sweet--a few of them avoid bringing peanut butter so they can sit with him, which I think is sooo nice of them.

It's nerve-wracking. I need to tell the lunchroom monitors that he can never be the assigned "captain" of the table. The captain has to pick up whatever the others leave behind. I don't want him going near the garbage cans. Ugggh. So many details.

On Sep 3, 2002

Good for you for shadowing you child. I have been also, and learning a lot. Our principal's letter to parents (asking them to keep PB at home) helped a lot -- only 4 holdouts out of 25 kids. But those PB kids are messy eaters - one boy went back to class with brown smush all over his face!

Our class divides the kids at lunch into 2 tables, nut and nut-free, so the PB is always away from my child's table. This also helps us see who is still eating it and needs a special hand/face washing.

I am still trying to get a dedicated aide for lunch and recess, as the monitors have their hands full with the other 150 kids. My doctor has submitted a letter to the superintendent stating that it is medically necesary at this young age.

Don't trust that the staff will remember the EpiPen unless you witness it happening repeatedly with no problems. Your presence will make them more aware, if you don't do it for them but point out when it's not working. Are they trained to recognize a reacation and use the pen? Our aides are trained, sorta, but want to send the kids to the nurse anyway.

Don't be afraid to be a pain, as long as you are respectful about it. People must understand how serious this is, and if they don't, it's our job to drop the scales from their eyes. Good luck!

On Sep 3, 2002

Another thing parents need to be aware of is that many of the kids need help opening their bags, cartons, packages, etc. The monitors dash around opening one thing after another for the kids (especially the younger ones). Be sure you pack lunches that your kids can open easily by themselves so they don't have to get help from someone with pb on their hands.

On Sep 3, 2002

Thanks for all the good info. I'm fairly new to these boards...I have read a lot, but never responded! My PA son is starting first grade tomorrow, also his first year in the cafeteria. I am a wreck. The other PA child's mother and I plan to be in the cafeteria until we feel comfortable with the whole thing. The kids have a peanut free table, but the lunch aides don't know who the food allergic kids are and what to do if something happens. We are in the process of training them and the rest of the staff. Our principal has been very supportive, as well as the teachers. I do feel supported, but I am still very nervous! Thanks for all the words of wisdom!

On Sep 4, 2002

Another idea from our school: the class lunches get carried to the caf in a laundry basket for first grade. The teacher does not allow the two PA kids' lunches to mingle with the other kids bags, either before or after lunch. They are carried separately.

Our PA kids are also allowed to carry water bottles to avoid the class water fountain which is very popular right after lunch/recess running around. (At last, a benefit of being PA! At least we'll avoid lots of cold germs this way.)

We are working on the handwashing but since the kids are dimissed right to recess, there is no practical way to wash all their hands first. Identifying a few PB eaters in our class helps, but we can't control it for all 150 kids at this lunch shift.

I'm planning a Back To School Night presentation (with another mom) and may buy a bunch of peanut-free jars of soy butter to offer as freebies to the last few families in our class who have ignored the principal's request to abstain from PB. And using a great idea from these boards, I'll make up some mini labels for the sandwich baggies to avoid confusion, (if they try it and like it.)

On Sep 4, 2002

Today was my second day in the lunchroom. When I got there the asst. principal was explaining to one of the aides who was feeding pb to a disabled child that she was too close to the peanut free area. After the asst principal walked away, the two aides were *itching and moaning about what's the big deal, what's so special about allergies, why is he even in the lunchroom if he's so allergic...they didn't know I was his mother. I said (nicely!), "Do you have some questions about peanut allergy?" and they didn't catch on that I was the mom and they were saying why can't he eat somewhere else or just don't let him eat it...The asst principal came back and she and I explained how serious the allergy is and that we are just trying to set up a safe area for him, etc. The look of SHAME on these women's faces when they realized I was his mother was PRICELESS. Wish I had a camera.

They are both aides for disabled children and they are very caring towards the kids they are assigned to, but I guess it doesn't extend to another child that they don't know. It was actually fascinating to listen to the things they said when they didn't know who I was. Afterwards, one of them got very friendly towards me and complimented me for coming to school to take care of my son and said she would always look out for him in the future. I know she is a kind person, but there really was a Jekyll and Hyde quality to her behavior. The other aide just moved away and AVOIDED me and later I saw her muttering to someone else and since I'm paranoid I'll just assume it was about my son. I know she is a great advocate for the autistic student she works with and I know she is lacking info about PA and maybe just looking for something to complain about. I know she understands the concept of inclusion, but she is just not applying it to the situation with PA. I'll keep my eye on her and I'll kill her with kindness.

On Sep 5, 2002


Regarding the son's class is now dismissed right into recess from the cafeteria. The para's dismiss the table; squirt the liquid soap into every child's hand in his class (except my son's) and the kids *immediately* go into the bathrooms in the cafeteria and wash up and then go to recess.

Sandra, I would have loved to have see those women's faces after they found out you were the child's mother. You have the right idea about *killing them with kindness* as this is how I like to handle difficult people! Using diplomacy is great--check out the wonderful definition:

Diplomacy...the ability to tell a person to go to h*ll in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip. [img][/img]

------------------ Stay Safe!


On Sep 6, 2002

Connie, Our school is very resistant to washing everyone's hands after lunch, as it would back up the bathroom when they are supposed to be going outside.

But I am now sending our class' holdout PB eaters to wash up (about 5 kids) whenever I volunteer, and I think I will squirt them with soap next week as I'm not confident these little boys are really scrubbing. (I can't follow them into the boys room, but I saw them at the class sink for a rainy day recess and it wasn't very thorough.)

Now I'm trying to find the right words for Parents Night, to get all the PB-eater parents to comply with the principal's request to keep it at home. Even the daughter of the PTA President is still eating PB sandwiches! Sigh! Thanks.

On Sep 11, 2002

Hi pamehughes,

I am so sorry they are not big on handwashing right after lunch. After the tables are dismissed, the children (30 in my son's class) line up and each gets liquid soap squirted directly into the palm of their hand so washing it off is a must and it doesn't take more than 5 minutes for them to clean up and get outside.

I would be a nervous wreck if they did not implement the handwashing rule because children in his class *do* eat peanut butter at lunch and he is touch reactive to peanut butter. (His eye swelled out of the socket and was hanging down under his bottom eyelid by being touched above his eye with peanut butter years ago)!

When is family night? Let us know how it goes.

------------------ Stay Safe!


On Sep 12, 2002

Just wanted to post this funny story. I have been going to the lunchroom every day to make sure they are following the safety procedures for my first grader's PA. The other day I decided I was satisfied with how they were handling it so I told my son I wouldn't be coming any more. That day he came home from school and said, oh so casually, "Hey mom, everything went fine in the lunchroom today for my peanut allergy. There was just one little problem."

I said, "What!?"

He said, "Well, half of the lunchroom did explode. Know which side exploded? The side I was on."

Ha ha. He has a very dry sense of humor. Do you think he finds me a tiny bit overprotective?

On Sep 16, 2002

Wow, big news. Our county school superintendent approved the hiring of a lunch/recess aide for my first-grade PA daughter! The aide started last Friday.

As far as I can tell, there was no precedent for this kind of expenditure for food allergy. I gave them medical documentation of the severity of the allergy and doctor's orders that my daughter never be away from a trained adult with an EpiPen, esp. while eating. It worked!

Also, on Parent's Night, the other PA mother and I made a very rushed pitch at the end of a 2 hour event, to ask our class parents to stop sending PB. So far, so good. We did give away free jars of soy butter and little baggie labels as a goodwill gesture, which seemed appreciated.

My unrehearsed dramatic moment was when I described for the parents what I had witnessed on the playground that very day: a 6-year-old PA child with another kid's fingers in her mouth, comparing loose and bloody baby teeth. This happened right after lunch, and when I started to describe this cute little rite of passage and the mortal danger it represented, I started to say "that's all it could take..." and then to my surprise, I couldn't speak.

There was an awkward silence while I composed myself, but I think at that moment, they got the picture. At least I hope so. Pam

On Sep 16, 2002


Excellent!!! I am so glad things went well for you and your child.

After reading what you wrote about *that's all it could take*...I got choked up! How wonderful for compassionate people. I hope the rest of the year goes smoothly for you. [img][/img]

------------------ Stay Safe!


On Sep 16, 2002

Thank you, Connie, and all the other people who have posted on these boards and helped me find my way. I've found great ideas and great support here, when I really needed it. This back-to-school period has been really awful, I nearly lost my job over the time and energy this has sucked from my life.

I just hope my experience gives hope to others to persist, as I was told it was virtually impossible to get a paid aide without a precedent. But I did.

That doesn't mean it will work for everybody, but it's nice to know that, sometimes, you can push back and get what you need for your child. I'll try to remember this on the dark days when I'm feeling defeated. Thanks everyone! Pam

On Sep 20, 2002

When my dd started Kindergarten 2 years ago, I was terrified of the lunch room. The lunch aides are all in their late 70s and 80s and I was afraid they wouldn't be quick enough to notice if my daughter was in trouble or not. So, I started going to lunch with my daughter to keep an eye on her. They do have a pnut free table, but that was it! I checked every one's lunch at her table, the older lunch lady didn't even do this. Twice I found somebody sitting there with PB in their lunch box!

One day, that lunch lady was out sick, so they offered me to work as a sub, so I took it.

To make a long story short, today, my dd is in 2nd grade. I've been working there for 1.5 years now. The pnut free table now has expanded to a pnut free zone which I am in charge of. This year there are 10 kids with pnut/nut allergies. I check everyone's lunch and if they even have a "may contain" they can't sit there with the allergic kids. The teachers and the parents are relieved that there is someone in that area with experience with this allergy.

As far as going around opening the other kids who have pb, I don't touch any of it. When it's bagel day, I only spread the cream cheese and the butter, the other lunch aide takes care of the PB.

So, if you aren't working elsewhere, (I'm a SAHM) and you have a couple of hours to spare, maybe you could look into being a lunch aide at the school cafeteria. Its a great way to pick up a little money AND get the satisfaction of keeping an eye on my daughter during lunch.