Connecticut policy on life-threatening food allergies in schools needs refinement

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CT House Bill 6975 was introduced on March 6 and was discussed in public hearing on March 11 regarding life-threatening food allergies in schools. The bill is called An Act Establishing a Task Force to Study Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Schools.

The purpose of this bill is to create a task force to investigate what is happening in schools and school related activities with regard to students and food allergies. While we are unaware of what will come of this task force investigation, it is obvious that there is a serious need for policies and practices to be revised and implemented around the management of life-threatening food allergies in schools.

Like many children in Connecticut, our daughter has life threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Currently, she has a Section 504 plan at her school that provides a medical accommodation plan during school and school related activities, including transportation with Stratford Public Schools. The Section 504 plan states that a child like our daughter needs an Epi-pen Jr. immediately upon showing anaphylactic shock, a medical condition that occurs rapidly upon exposure to peanuts or tree nuts. Schools like St. James School, where our daughter attends, have been wonderful in making sure children with such allergies are safe. They implement her plan accordingly.

Francesca Martin, 7.

Francesca Martin, 7.

Yet, two afternoons a week when our daughter is on a school bus (owned and directed by the Stratford Public Schools) her Section 504 plan is not implemented. There is not a trained adult to administer the Epi-pen Jr. on the school bus in the case of an emergency. Stratford Public School’s policy is for the bus driver to pull over and call 911 for any medical issue.

In the case of a child going into anaphylactic shock, though, the time between a phone call and help arriving could mean life or death for any child with a life-threatening allergy. Stratford Public School District is out of compliance with the law.

As parents, we’ve been fighting a battle with Stratford Public Schools since September. We have made numerous phone calls, sent many emails, scheduled meetings with the board of education, the superintendent, school personnel, and we have given permission for the Director of Pupil Services Robin Marino to speak with our daughter’s allergist.

Even though the doctor states that an Epi-pen Jr. is needed with our daughter at all times, the Stratford Public Schools has decided not to change their emergency bus policy, or to at least train someone (even the bus driver) to administer the Epi-pen Jr. on the bus. According to Robin Marino, “it is not medically necessary” for my daughter to have a trained adult on the bus to administer the Epi-pen Jr. and if this was her daughter “she would transport her, herself to and from school.”

Not having access to the bus, due to my daughter’s allergy, is a matter of discrimination, and one that we do not take lightly. If we could, we would transport her. We should have access to the bus and feel safe about our daughter riding it.

Proper training of adults to administer the Epi-pen Jr. takes roughly 15 minutes. This is an enormous problem not only for our daughter but also for all children in Stratford, CT and other school districts that ride school buses with life threatening allergies. Lacking a trained adult who can administer the epi-pen on the bus is risking the safety and lives of many children with life threatening allergies.

There was recently a tragedy with a young student in New Haven on a school bus; let’s not have another. Putting aides on the school bus can help to protect and keep all children safe, especially those with diagnosed medical needs. The number of youth with food allergies increases every year and we desperately need help to protect Connecticut’s children, especially with adherence to 504 plans. There are two simple solutions: 1) put a trained aide on all school buses or 2) train the bus drivers to administer Epi-pens. Both solutions are easy and low budget, a small price to pay to keep our kids safe while on the bus.

Alyson and Jason Martin live in Stratford with their two daughters, both with life-threatening food allergies. Alyson is an assistant professor of special education. Jason is a trader at a New York hedge fund.

What do you think?

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