My kids are currently climbing the walls and I’ve doubled my daily coffee intake this last week. And it’s totally worth it.
I support the Chicago Teacher’s Union’s Strike for a myriad of reasons – most that mirror the Facebook posts and other think pieces floating around on social media.
My biggest (and probably self serving) reason is that Chicago Public Schools desperately need to increase the number of nurses on staff.
It’s not your imagination – the number of food allergies is growing.
Food Allergy Research and Education has created a factsheet regarding food allergies. A 2018 study reported that 5.6 million children have at least one food allergy – approximately, 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom. (Keep in mind, the Chicago Teacher’s Union is trying to cap class sizes – otherwise there could be up to 3 kids in a classroom). And based on another 2015 study, the rate may be higher in inner cities, where the prevalence of food allergies goes up to1 in 10 children.
It is important to me that my children go to their local public schools.
But frankly, I am not impressed with the systems in place at any of the schools when I asked how they handle food allergies.
In fact, I seriously considered turning around and home-schooling Max.
The schools need significantly more resources to handle the food allergy (and asthma, and mental health…) epidemic.
One school that I toured assured me that they were aware of food allergies and were nut-free, which is a start. But that does not address the other 6 common food allergies – such as milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.
Another school explained that for the younger children, epinephrine is kept in the nurses office or the main office. But minutes matter in a reaction. As a parent, is it reasonable for me to trust that in a time of heightened stress, a teacher would recognize a reaction and then be able to get my child’s medication from a locked office where a nurse was only present one day a week? Like, no shade…I don’t trust myself to do it, I can’t imagine how that would work with a classroom of 25 kids all running around too.
One administrator, when I explained what Max was allergic to, shook his head and honestly said, “yeah, that’s a lot, I’m not sure what to do about that.”
If Max was older and could self carry his medications, then perhaps, I would feel more confident, but alas, kiddo is 3 years old.
I’m not expecting schools to rearrange their cafeterias nor do I want to police other children’s lunches.
I fully intend to be fully engaged as a parent and I know that teachers will work their hardest, but without the system and resources in place, it’s not enough.
I expect that schools are prepared to encounter food allergies and react in a timely fashion. Kids are in school for a large part of the day. And with birthday parties, snacks, lunches, crafts, there are plenty of opportunities for children to have serious reactions in class.
(Another fun fact that keeps me awake at night, children can react to an allergen during the school day that they were currently unaware of.)
It’s irresponsible that the city/state has underfunded schools so much that there is not a nurse at every school Each school needs a trained staff person (or 2-3) available to lead the response to an immediate and potentially serious health need of the students and I truly hope that after negotiations conclude, that each school, at the very least, will have a full time nurse in the building.
Also, let’s address some of the school policies regarding accommodating food allergies that don’t amount to putting all the allergic kids at one table in the cafeteria…but that’s probably another blog post.