Version for Canadian readers; for the U.S. article, click here.
While school field trips have the potential for unwanted exposures, they are an important part of your child’s education, and worth the extra planning required.
The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology’s national guidelines, called “Anaphylaxis in Schools and Other Settings,” recommend that administrators have a written school anaphylaxis plan with strategies to reduce risks for students with allergies, including an approach to field trips. As well, each at-risk student should have an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan, and safety protocols for outings can be written into that plan.
“On a school trip, all the same rules apply for the anaphylaxis emergency plan, with a few extras,” says Laura Bantock, former director of Food Allergy Canada’s western region.
1. Plan and Speak Up
Good communication is essential. Bantock suggests speaking with school officials before the start of school about potential outings and allergy concerns. “Have a conversation saying, “lf there are going to be any field trips, please give me as much notice as you can, because I’d like to work with you to ensure it’s as safe as possible for my child.”
For specific trips, Allergic Living recommends reviewing protocols with the teacher, determining first whether a field trip location is safe for your child. Encourage the school to include food-allergic children, so they aren’t left out of such activities, but keep an eye out for unsafe venues, such as trips to chocolate factories when dealing with dairy or nut allergies.
2. Be Detail-Oriented
Once you have information on a specific trip, set up a time to speak with the teacher. “You want to walk through the day,” says Gina Clowes, director of education for the Virginia-based FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). “Others are not looking at things through allergy-coloured glasses.” Ask about everything from what will be done on the field trip to bus seating arrangements, and where students will be eating lunch.
It’s also a good idea to research the venue by looking at its website, calling ahead, visiting it in person, and asking other parents who have been there.
3. Who’s in Charge?
“The allergic student should always be supervised by an adult, and one who is trained on how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction,” says Bantock. Ideally, that would be the child’s parent, but if you cannot attend, your child should be in a group with someone who can act in an emergency. (Bantock points out that with training programs available online, such as Allergyaware.ca, it is easy for teachers, and even other parents, to be trained in food allergy management.)
For any child with a medical condition, food allergy consultant Gina Mennett Lee believes there should be two chaperones nearby, even if that means two groups have to stick together. This way, if a chaperone needs to leave with the child with the medical condition, perhaps to wash hands, “there’s someone still there to supervise the rest of that group,” she says.
Food Allergy Canada recommends that those in charge have a copy of your child’s anaphylaxis emergency plan and know where the student keeps his or her epinephrine auto-injectors. The organization also recommends that one chaperone carries back-up epinephrine.
4. Lunch Matters
Talk through where and when lunch will be eaten. If you’re going to a facility, such as a science centre, and the kids will be eating in a cafeteria, make sure your child’s spot will be wiped down, or ask in advance to be the first school group to eat. In most circumstances, send a safe bagged lunch, even if others are buying from a cafeteria. With an older student, it may be safe to purchase, but call in advance to find out what dish will be suitable and request that a portion is plated and held. Both your child and a teacher should remind food service staff of these special arrangements.
Often in warm months, the plan is to enjoy an outdoor picnic. But in inclement weather, Clowes notes the backup would be to eat on the bus, which can be messy and worrisome, especially if, for example, you’re dealing with a dairy allergy and people are eating yogurt on the bus. Make sure there’s a plan for special seating and a buffer zone free of allergens for your child.
Other food concerns: Find out if snacks will be handed out at any point, if kids will be allowed to eat snacks from home on the bus, or if food is part of the programming.
5. Hands, Hands Everywhere
Field trips are often hands-on by nature. Mennett Lee advises finding out: “Are the children going to be touching things?” If other students touch allergens on a trip, be certain there’s a provision in place that they will wash their hands afterwards.
6. Stock Your Bag
Make sure your child is carrying her epinephrine auto-injectors, as well as any other allergy or asthma medications your doctor has advised. Pack plenty of wipes to clean eating areas and hands. The adult in charge should have a cellphone to call 911 in an-emergency, and extra snacks can come in handy in many circumstances, including traffic delays.