A Teacher’s Perspective on the Nut Free Classroom

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A Teacher's Perspective on the Nut Free Classroom | Columbia SC Moms Blog“Mrs. Hooks, I ate a Snickers.”

I felt hot and cold at the same time.

“Did you eat all of it?”

I found myself desperately trying to remember what steps were outlined in the emergency plan I was given at the beginning of the year. All I knew was that I needed to get my student to the nurse IMMEDIATELY…

An “Inconvenience” 

I have to admit that I was an eye-roller before this incident. Allergies to gluten, nuts, and dairy always triggered a sarcastic response from me because I viewed it as just another piece of information that I had to remember. As a teacher, I have approximately 60 kids each year with IEP’s, 504 plans, allergies, intervention schedules, and so much more that I am expected to remember daily. It seemed so overwhelming. But I didn’t realize until one of my students was in danger that this information is not just something else to check off on a list.

I know it can be frustrating as a parent to get that letter. You know the one that says your child is in a nut free classroom this year. Now you can’t just slap a PB&J together for lunch each day. There will be no Reese’s Peanut Butter cups on Valentine’s Day or store bought cupcakes for your child’s birthday. It seems like a major inconvenience. I get it. I was you once.

However, I now know that food allergies in the classroom present a real danger.

A Teacher's Perspective on the Nut Free Classroom | Columbia SC Moms Blog

What If…

If I had taken the time to discuss with my students what could happen to our friends if they eat something that they have an allergy to, maybe my student wouldn’t have given that piece of candy to her friend. If I had done more to educate the parents, maybe the offending treat would have never made its way to school. I’ll never know if this situation could have been avoided. What I do know is that I will now inconvenience myself and every adult around my students in an effort to keep them safe. 

I totally understand why the parent of a child without allergies doesn’t “get it.” Your child can plop down at a restaurant on the field trip and eat any ol’ thing. Some children can’t though, and it is up to the adults to advocate for them and their well being.

The Danger Of Food Allergies

My student made it out of this scary incident totally unharmed, but others aren’t so lucky. I say “unharmed” but that only means she was OK afterward. But when the incident occurred she was given an epinephrine injection by our school nurse and rushed to the emergency room by ambulance. All of this happened while her mother was speeding to the ER to meet the ambulance with thoughts in her head that are unfathomable to me as the parent of an allergy-free child.

The other students I referred to who haven’t been so “lucky” could face wheezing, tightness in the throat, swelling, anaphylaxis, itching, and digestive issues, and even die. And, unfortunately, Epi-Pens aren’t a guarantee. Yes, it is designed to help stop anaphylaxis, but a secondary reaction can occur and may be followed by death. 

Something else to consider is this: some kiddos don’t even have to ingest or touch the offending items for a reaction to occur. These reactions can occur just by being in the same room or touching an object that someone else touched with nut residue on their hands.

So maybe when you get that letter next time, don’t roll your eyes like I used to do. Have a chat with your little ones about allergies, the life and death danger that some of their friends face, and be thankful for your own health. 

What has been your experience dealing with food allergies, either in your own home or child’s classroom?

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Lacie is a true God-fearing Southern woman. She appreciates small town living. As an alumni of the University of South Carolina and Columbia College, she believes in the absolute power of education. Lacie works as an elementary school teacher. She received her Masters of Education from Columbia College in 2017. Lacie married a true Southern gentleman. They met in 2010 and married in 2014. Their family grew in 2015 with the birth of their only biological son, Gatlin. The family of three lived happily until 2017. The Lord decided then that the family should open their home to those in need as foster parents. The home is ready to receive those blessings now. In her spare time, Lacie enjoys reading so much so that Gatlin would have been named after the wonderful Harper Lee if he had been a girl. Prison documentaries are a vice that her husband does not understand. Finally, Lacie enjoys spending time with her five siblings and their amazing children

10 COMMENTS

  1. I, too, felt like you with any kind of allergies in my classrooms throughout my teaching career. I was careful, especially since I used classroom cooking experiences in my lesson plans for Pre-K and Kdg classes. Once my own grandson was diagnosed very early with a peanut allergy I internalized how really really important it is, and how difficult it can be for young kids and their families. Watching him and his parents adapt to social situations, family recipes, and increasingly independent experiences has given me a tremendous respect for anyone dealing with allergies. Thank you fo shining a light on this issue!

  2. It’s terrible that it takes a medical EMERGENCY or a diagnosis of a FAMILY member for teachers to get it. That’s what is wrong with our society. There is NO EMPATHY until it directly affects you. Why can’t anyone put themselves in someone else’s shoes. As a parent of a child with food allergies, it really saddens me to know that teachers who are in charge of the care of my child for multiple hours per day cannot empathize for her. I’ve noted the aura from teachers at 504 meetings, we as parents do not need to visually see your eye rolls. We know when you feel like our children are an inconvenience to you. Trust me, we HATE that we can’t start the school year off like every other parent, and that our initial meetings with you are to cover ways you need to accommodate our families. We know you don’t like it.

    • I appreciate your comment. I wrote this post last year from a place of complete transparency. I am so sorry if you have ever felt cast aside by a teacher. We truly don’t mean to make anyone feel that way. However, you have to understand that I serve approximately 70 kids each year. Most of them have some intervention in place for either educational, behavioral, medical, or other interventions. I have always tried my best to serve those kids to the best of my ability, but it can be overwhelming. I would hope that you would have the same care and compassion for teachers that you want us to have for your child. Most of us are truly doing our absolute best.

  3. I have found when school leadership is supportive, it makes a world of difference with the teachers and Fellow parents. Having a clear plan in place vs. making the parent educate and reinforce allergy requirements is exhausting for the parent and the teacher, and as a parent, I never felt safe with my child in the school with the less supportive leadership.

  4. Ms. Hooks, you are such a godsend to every student you cross daily. I’m not writing this from reading nice blogs but from my own eyes. Granted, there are many teachers who do not take anything serious and just brush it off as if it’s no big deal. There are people in general regardless of where we are. I appreciate your honesty and just sharing in hopes that other teachers won’t be so nonchalant.

    To be honest, there are several medical professionals that aren’t quick to respond because of so many “made up scenarios.” Does this make it right…no it doesn’t. The purpose of this writing is for all of us to take a moment and examine our own actions. Of course it’s more passionate to those who experience things like this, but think about the times when you could care less. This post isn’t to point fingers or beat up on any profession…it’s awareness for all of us.

    I’m just appreciative for you putting this out here. You’re always an advocate for your students and any student you come across. Continue to be the teacher who makes a difference…it’s never overlooked or forgotten.

    As always, I have your back.

    Your school nurse!!! 😊

  5. The “made up scenarios” are DEFINITELY a big issue with food allergy acceptance. As a pre school teacher, i had several parents over the years tell me their kids had food allergies when it turned out the parent either didn’t want the kid eating that food or the kid didn’t like it.

    Preference is not the same as an allergy! And pretending it is puts other kids in danger!

    One example: a mom told us that due to severe food allergies, a three year old in my class was only to have salad for lunch. Five days into this, the child ended up fainting because that is all her mother was feeding her at home too! After CPS got involved, it turned out there were no allergies at all, the mom just thought the child was fat and needed to lose weight. (The kid was quite skinney already, and that is no way to lose weight for anybody!)

    So yeah, i am sorry that anybody ever discounts these famlies but please realize the bs teachers and care givers are up against.

    Maybe schools could clarify their policy: We don’t cater to food preferences, only to medically documented allergies and religious exceptions.

  6. I love this article. People don’t realize how hard this is. I’m not a parent of a child with a severe food allergy; but I’m a parent of a child who has always been in a classroom with a child that has a peanut allergy or a glutenfree allergy. Some kids are more severe than others. I have learned from my child and the other children in my kids classes. If you do educate the teacher and the children, they will cooperate. The kids know what to eat and what not to eat around these children

    When I go to buy things for lunch it’s amazing to see how caring children are and how aware of what can hurt their friends. If you educate well in advance, you wont have a problem. We have a strong and very proactive administration. My child’s teacher will not let a crumb of anything that would hurt any of her kids in her classroom. Children need to feel safe. It would also be quite traumatizing to see their friend have a reaction if we didn’t follow these guidelines. As a parent, I do wish there was a better way and may be some day there will be. My point is clear, you can learn from your child and how they learn and do to keep a friend safe. It is not an inconvenience to them.

  7. Love this! I’m a teacher and have had nut-free classrooms before. I do not have children yet, however I have had a severe milk allergy and asthma my whole life. I used to be that kid with all of those precautions, long before it was more normal for it to occur. When I have a student with those allergies, I often tell parents of my own struggles and they feel more confident that I will make sure their child is safe. I’ve also heard many teachers fluff it off and eye roll, and I do my best to educate. Unfortunately it’s more common now, and I’d hate to really find out how severe those allergies are! Great article.

  8. I am glad that you now understand the seriousness of food allergies and I do applaud you for speaking out and helping to educate others. And truly, I know teachers have a very, very difficult job – you are generally overworked and underpaid and literally have children’s lives, in addition to their educations and their health and wellbeing in your hands.

    But, isn’t that all the more reason to make sure to pay attention to all that information you are being given about each child? If some people are “faking it” or have accommodations they really don’t need, then please take that up with the school nurse and/or administration. As far as food allergies go, I also understand that you don’t really “get it’ until you deal with it yourself or see it up close, I really do get that – but considering that a true food allergy CAN be life threatening (and in fact, there have been a handful of deaths AT SCHOOL from food allergy), isn’t it better to assume it is that serious and act accordingly?

    I encourage you all to look up the stories of Oakley Debs, Natalie Giorgio, Gio Cipriano, Ammaria Johnson. And the sad part is, I could go on and on. These are the kids who didn’t make it – who weren’t as lucky as your student (in large part, because they didn’t get the Epipen in time.)

    Those stories – combined with some teachers, staff and parents who just don’t take any of this seriously, or worse – think allergy parents are just looking for attention – truly can make it terrifying to send our kids to school! I was never so glad as when my son finished elementary school because there were just WAY too many endless parties and food events in the school for every little thing.

  9. My son left the library at story time 6-weeks into kindergarten. He was in full blown reaction and his teacher did everything right. Nurse provided Epi-Pen while I raced to the school to find him on a stretcher and being wheeled towards the door. In this case, the nurse and teacher had taken this very serious. I spoke at the kindergarten orientation. I addressed being “inconvenienced” during the school year because it is an inconvenience for others to be around and “deal” with my child. I expressed that year, and every year until middle-school, that they could always request NOT to be in his class. If they thought it was tough for just 180 days, could they imagine what it felt like for him; 365 days per year, 7 days per week, 24 hours per day? Death at your door with a spec of food, a smear of peanut butter from a Reese’s pieces (the library) into a mucous membrane. I let them know how it felt as a mom to be told by a Dr. to “call your husband, because it is now up to your son and God if he lives or dies”. I can easily make a room of dad’s and mom’s tear up, and sometimes, I had to. The principal in that school was an “eye-roller”. I asked her to hold the doors open that day to allow me to walk next to my 5 year old’s stretcher with oxygen on his face, and a EKG machine next to him. She got the visual pretty quick. My son was okay. It did not change her. ICE COLD. It took 5 years with her to finally “get it”. She retired and apologized to me at the end. I am glad you learned right away. Apologies don’t save lives, people like you do. Thank you.

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