It’s now a few weeks into the new school year- enough time for you to have (hopefully) met with your child’s teacher and explained their needs, written and submitted a Plan 504 to the school, and assessed the level of care and accommodation your child has been given for their food allergies. It never ceases to amaze us, but every year parents across the globe tackle the issue of uncooperative teachers, staff members who either don’t understand or don’t believe in a child’s allergies or simple miscommunications.
Parents are then faced with a NOW WHAT? What, if anything, is there to do when your child’s school or teachers just don’t get it?
Speak to your child’s teacher:
Your first point of contact should always be with your child’s main teacher. It never leaves good feelings when a parent goes above them directly to the principal before giving them the courtesy to fix the problem. Remember: Your tone is very important- speak in a low, calm voice even if you are stressed and boiling inside. Choose a time that works for the teacher to talk, maybe later on at night or before school, to give you the greatest chance at success,
Meet with the principal:
The next step is to schedule a meeting with the school’s principal. Ask for the school nurse, social worker, and your child’s teacher to be present. Hopefully, just asking for the meeting will be enough motivation to put enough safeguards in place. Having the school nurse present is also important as they can help explain the potential dangers to your child and answer any questions a staff member may have.
Contact the State Department of Education:
This step takes your power to the next level. Through contacting them you will be able to find out exactly what the law is regarding your issues, especially if the claim has been made to you- and yes, this still happens- that food allergies are NOT a disability according to the law. (False!) There have been many other claims reported by parents from their schools, and knowing the legalities ensures that you can express your needs while knowing the responsibilities placed on the schools by the law.
Speak to the staff member again
It’s never a first or even second step to threaten a lawsuit, but sometimes that’s the only way to get people to listen to you. Sometimes you have to get creative, like physically going down to the school and seeing the layout- maybe you need to speak to the staff at the cafeteria, or the art teacher.
Bear in mind:
If you are having trouble, it may be worth your while to make things as easy as possible for the school as you can. Prepare the letter to be sent out to the parents, provide a list of alternative safe snacks and lunch ideas and print off the signs you want to be placed around the school. They might be more willing if they don’t have to work so hard.
Don’t get disheartened if your child’s teacher doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation. It’s your job as a parent to MAKE them ‘get it.’ Society has thankfully come a long way in understanding food allergies, and ultimately, it’s not coming from a bad place; everyone wants to keep your child and all children safe; sometimes they need a little nudge to do it.