As Katherine, Eli, and I sat on an old mattress in the basement last night, watching tornado warnings on TV and calling Scott to make sure he was safe at work, I was thinking: "This is a pain. I hope we all stay safe. When will Scott be home? How am I going to get them back to sleep? Please keep us safe."
Safe. We all want to keep our children safe. Sadly, we cannot. There are things we can't control. So we pray. We kiss our kids at night. We do what we can.
Katherine's kindergarten registration packet arrived at our house a few weeks ago, bringing with it all my worries and fears about her safety in public school. She wants to go, we want her to go, but the bottom line is that I won't send her if a few things don't change.
What things? I'm so glad I imagined you asked!
According to the superintendent's administrative assistant, our school district has no formal policies regarding food allergic children. I found this out when I called the superintendent's office and asked. As far as I can tell, this means that every family of an allergic child gets to start from square one with the administration. Since there are no policies specific to allergic children, I have had to brush up on Section 504 of federal law and Chapter 15 of Pennsylvania law. (Thanks to my friend Andrea, who has a son with Asperger's syndrome and who knows a lot about this) To paraphrase, poorly, Katherine's allergy is considered a disability. If her doctor writes a letter or prescription stating her medical needs, by law the school district needs to find a way to accommodate that. I did not want to walk in the door of the kindergarten building with my legal guns blazing, but I did want to know what I was talking about.
The superintendent had the elementary school principal call me back. Our conversation centered on snacks, and she told me this: "Kindergartners arrive at school with snacks sent by their parents, but if the teacher deems the snack 'unhealthy,' the teacher may replace it with a 'healthy' food item of her choice. You know, like if a kid brings in junk food, the teacher will give her peanut butter and cheese crackers instead."
............I'm sorry, did you just say peanut butter (which is another issue) and cheese crackers?!?!?!? After I just spent 10 minutes explaining that my daughter can't be near dairy?
Please bear in mind that I will continue to do what I always do, namely provide Katherine's teacher with a stash of graham crackers, fruit snacks, etc. I'm not asking anyone else to do so, I just want to guarantee that those are the foods she will be given should I ever send an "unhealthy" snack.
Speaking of snacks I provide, I'm prepared to go zero tolerance on birthday parties and give Katherine's teacher a stash of dairy-free cupcakes and other treats to use in those situations. Just please tell me that those are what will be used.
I am also concerned about crafts and projects. Counting M&Ms during math time and using Goldfish crackers to make a picture of the ocean are not viable activities for my daughter. So let's agree that her teacher will let me know about these projects so I can provide an alternative.
I left messages for the school nurse and for the school nutritionist. The school nutritionist was very nice and very helpful, however, her work concerns the cafeterias, not the classrooms, and Katherine will not be in a cafeteria until next year. At that time, the nutritionist said she would be happy to make a cafeteria safety plan with us, she said that I am welcome to the nutritional information in her office at any time, and she even volunteered to sit in on this year's meeting to make sure we're all on the same page. I wanted to hug her.
Next came the school nurse. My number one concern is that they do not want to keep Katherine's medications in her classroom. We are talking about a lifesaving first aid device to be used in a medical emergency. I am not asking that her teacher dispense her daily dose of vitamins. (Although, while we're at it, the teachers can't give out band-aids, but they can dispense fluoride to students?) The point I have made to everyone who will listen is that we want her to experience public school, but it is not worth her life. There is one (1) school nurse for the entire school district. A district that contains five (5) separate school buildings. ALL MEDICATIONS are kept in the nurse's locked office. Nurse, to me: "I can be at the kindergarten building in five (5) minutes. Unless there's a train." (Train tracks run through our town.) Me, to Nurse: "She could be dead by then." The nurse told me about the Chapter 15 agreement, too, and told me that Katherine's doctor needed to be specific about the amount of time between a contact with an allergen and the need for medicine.
Katherine has an amazing understanding of her allergy. She is very, very careful. But mistakes happen. It is hard for a five-year-old to understand that some pretzels are safe and some are not, some crackers are safe and some are not. It is even harder for her fellow students to understand. Medication needs to be available in the classroom in case of an accident.
I have given the doctor's written directions ("Significant milk allergy. Patient needs immediate proximity of Benadryl/Epi-Pen because of anaphylaxis.") to the school nurse, and she and the principal are going to meet with me and with Katherine's teacher in August to compose the Chapter 15 Agreement. (We won't know who her teacher is until then.) I hope it goes well, otherwise I'll be spending August learning about homeschooling.
Also, several state senators and representatives are trying to pass laws enabling students to self-carry medication. I hope these laws are enacted soon.