Who’s Watching Lunch?

in Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
Published: July 2, 2010

But in her discussions with literally thousands of parents of food-allergic kids, “I haven’t heard of situations where a child supervising lunch.”

A recent University of Michigan poll found 79 per cent of parents of food-allergic elementary pupils reporting some accommodations for their allergies, but a designated eating area (within a lunchroom) for those with allergies was only reported in 28 per cent of the schools.

Scherrer says FAAN hasn’t gathered information on the specific topic of lunch aides and their training, and Allergic Living’s inquiries prompted her to suggest that the organization may look into this important area.

During its research, Allergic Living heard from parents across the continent. Some U.S. parents mentioned parent lunchtime volunteers and expressed concerns that they don’t know enough about anaphylaxis.

One Pennsylvania mother, whose child has multiple allergies including milk, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, said the paid lunch aides at her son’s school were not trained on anaphylaxis or use of an auto-injector and, “even if they were, I don’t think the school administrators would have trusted them enough to keep an eye on my son.”

Complicating life, despite this mom’s repeated training, her son has been inclined to take risks, such as eating a candy he “thought” was safe. The solution she turned to was to get her son qualified under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. In cases of food allergy, that designation is only permitted for those whom a physician has assessed as at risk of severe anaphylactic reaction.

To accommodate this boy under his 504 plan, the school assigned a specials needs assistant (who works with children with all manner of disabilities) to watch him as he ate. To the Pennsylvania mother’s great relief: “she got the whole allergy thing right away.”

But getting a 504 designation can be difficult. Allergic Living heard from one Missouri woman whose family is in a messy wrangle over the local school district’s refusal to view her daughter’s severe food allergies as a disability and make accommodations. While the whole topic of “allergy as disability” is controversial, it has been one means of securing allergy provisions. T

o get a sense of how heated this topic gets, the Missouri woman stressed: “I do not want to publish anything specifically about our school district situation. I will not give them anything that they can come back and sue us with.”

Improving Supervision

It’s tough to find common ground with school administrators once relations are strained. But it’s certainly wise to find out who is watching lunchtime and snacking at recess, especially when dealing with young children. Harada recommends including a few questions about who’s in charge of kids at lunch during start-of-school-year talks about your child’s anaphylaxis plan.

Don’t simply assume that lunch supervisors with food allergy training are covered under a school’s allergen prevention measures. Even in Ontario, which introduced the precedent-setting Sabrina’s Law to protect anaphylactic students, a Ministry of Education spokesman stresses that, “supervisory duties are assigned by the principal to meet the needs of a school.”

At the local level, there can be big differences. In Canada, there are two categories of student monitor systems, those in which one or two teachers or paid staff circulate among the classes in the hallway and those in which monitors are simply instructed to find a teacher or staffer in the office.

When it comes to adult supervision, a minority of districts have teachers minding lunch. With budget cuts and restricted supervision minutes in teacher contracts, this is often not possible. Other options are parent volunteers or paid, part-time lunch aides.

A drawback to the latter, as the Pennsylvania mom mentions, is the variance in the ability to grasp or contend with anaphylactic emergencies. One option that appears to be popular among both parents and principals is extending the duties of education assistants (or special needs aides) to cover lunch supervision.