The insensitivity towards kids with food allergies

Dear Members of the Illinois State Board of Education,

As a parent of a child attending Illinois Public Schools, a taxpayer, and a board-certified pediatric allergist and immunologist, I was distressed to hear of the irresponsible comments made by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Members Catherine Campbell and Lawrence Gregorash regarding the requirement for Illinois schools to have a food allergy policy in place by 2011.

When the parents of children with severe food allergies send their children to school, they place immense trust in our school system – not only to educate their children, but to keep them safe while in its care.

The safety of our children in the school setting is of tantamount importance, and the assertion by school board members that protecting children with life-threatening food allergies is “the most ridiculous thing” or “this isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve seen in my 64 years … but it sure ranks in the top 10″ is worse than offensive – it is dangerous.

We need only look to the tragic death of 13-year old Katelyn Carlson in December to remind us that food allergies can not, and should not, be taken lightly.  One can only speculate as to whether this tragedy could have been prevented had a comprehensive food allergy plan been in place and been implemented in a timely manner.

As an anaphylaxis community expert, I work with a registered nurse educator to raise awareness about the recognition and treatment of anaphylaxis.  There are 150 such teams throughout the nation, all committed to the concept that raising awareness about the seriousness of anaphylaxis can save precious lives.  This outreach effort is available free of charge to schools and organizations requesting educational assistance.  In the wake of young Katelyn’s untimely death, the Chicago School District has proactively requested education for their nurses and counselors.

I respectfully suggest that the ISBE might also benefit from learning more about the dangers of life threatening allergy, so as to better fulfill its stated goal to “offer a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.”

As a physician and a mother, my most important role is that of an educator.  Only by understanding our bodies and disease processes can we move forward to improve health.  I am hopeful that the ISBE will seize this opportunity to educate itself and create a healthier learning environment for all students in our great state.

Please feel free to contact me at any time to arrange for an educational seminar for the members of the Illinois State Board of Education.  I would be happy to facilitate a program.

Sakina Shikari Bajowala, MD

Sakina Shikari Bajowala is an allergy and immunology physician who blogs at Achoo!- Adventures of an Allergist Mommy.

Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice. 

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Sarah Wells

    Children with severe food allergies should be accomodated…at home,  or in special classrooms that do not encroach on the day to day activities and eating habits of others.   If education is the responsibility of the collective, management of allergy is not.

     Normal-intelligence allergic  or asthmatic children should be permitted their epi-pens without some federal case made by school systems and involvement of nurses, just reasonable evidence of necessity, as a note from a physician. 

  • Brenda Elliott

    being a school nurse, I have trouble sleeping at night due the numbers of children with severe allergies.
     Despite training teachers/staff to give epi-pen immediately, I continue to get comments like ” I wouldn’t want to give epi-pen, I might cause more harm”  – this from the designated person who gives all other meds in the front office!  Even when I explain that the child will die if not given immediately- waiting to see if Benadryl works means TOO LATE…

    Also- inordinate concern that staff not violate HIPPA- so questioning- a need for a list of children with allergies in the cafeteria- so workers there know what to look for if these specific children have symptoms- likely going to be TOO LATE before office knows & responds.

    If you have a child with life threatening illness-  have an action plan given to every adult your child interacts with.  Make them walk through what they would do- Make sure the med is accessible, available at all times.

    Teens are the highest risk for death because they wrongly assume they ‘never had a problem before’ at school, and most likely have not even told the school they carry an epi-pen, and its in their locker-  TOO LATE.
    If you have a teen make sure there is an extra epi-pen in office with correct forms and action plan.

    Still with everything in place- its a gamble.  That’s why its hard to sleep at night….

  • Mary

    I have a related complaint. My daughter, who has multiple disabilities, has trouble with chewy foods … things like steak, hard taco shells, hard or chewy candy and so on. I put this information on her health card, plus inform the teachers, cafeteria aids and anyone else who’ll listen. So far, she almost choked on tough pizza dough one day at lunch, and has come home repeatedly with hard candy in her backpack (candy is sometimes given as a motivator in class; I won’t go there right now). Plus, her older sister has met her for lunch at school numerous times and found hard pieces of chicken and other food items that my young daughter cannot safely eat. I’ve complained and complained to no avail, but these people just don’t get it.

Most Popular