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Using A Collaborative Approach to Educating Students with Severe Anaphylaxis

by Diana Bolan, Acting Principal and Marilyn Howden, Teacher, Minchau Elementary School, Edmonton School District No.7
Promising Practices in Special Education
Life-threatening Allergies (anaphylaxis) June 1996, Vol.2:5, Alberta Education Special Education Branch

For parents of young children with severe allergies, a sense of control over the environment is essential to reducing the ever-present concern about severe, life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). While at home, the parents construct a safety zone around the child, however, when the child enters school, parents relinquish much of this control. 

Schools that work with parents to build an environment of mutual trust, help to create a new, larger safety zone which encompasses students, parents, teachers, staff and administrators. 

Minchau Elementary School in Edmonton is working hard to create mutual trust through a collaborative approach to the education of one student. When a student with severe, life-threatening allergies to peanuts and soy products enrolled in the Grade 1 program last September, the administration, in collaboration with the parent and teachers, immediately put a safety plan in place for this child. St. John's ambulance was called to inservice and certify staff directly involved with the student in first aid, CPR and administration of the EpiPen (adrenalin kit). Other interested staff members were invited to attend. This certification was seen as a benefit to the school as a whole and it is now a requirement in the Alberta Health and Safety Act Regulations that a certain number of staff members in each school receive first aid/CPR training. 

Convinced that it would be impractical at that time to try to enforce a "no peanut" rule throughout Minchau, procedures were put into place to make the student's classroom a no-food area. When children in Marilyn Howden's Grade 1 classroom enter school, they place their lunches and snacks on a cart outside the classroom. To minimize the exposure to even the smell of peanut or soy products, the student prepares early for recess and leaves the building before the other students collect their recess snacks from their snack cart. While most students who stay for lunch eat in their classrooms, there is no eating in this room and an alternative lunch area has been assigned to the Grade 1 classes. The food cart is taken by the lunch supervisors to the assigned lunch area for distribution to the students. The student with severe allergies goes home each day for lunch. 

"The playground of our schoolyard is kept food free, for the safety of the children," adds Marilyn. "If they are playing on any of the equipment, they should not be eating. It is a safe practice. That's our rule." 

The student's mother, a nurse, has been instrumental in training staff to use the EpiPen and administer CPR using a life-sized model. At the beginning of the school year, she established a positive rapport with the school staff and her constant reassurances, affirmations and involvement have been a source of encouragement to staff members who were naturally concerned about the health and safety of this student. This mother lives by the conviction that if she makes herself available to school staff, she will reduce everyone's anxieties, including her own and her child's. 

While Marilyn has not altered the Grade 1 curriculum, she has made modifications by eliminating food manipulative as a resource. "I think in terms of modifying events rather than removing them from the Grade 1 experience," adds Marilyn. One experience Marilyn did not want to lose was birthday celebrations in the classroom. However rather than having parents donate treats, she decided to incorporate cooking into the class curriculum. At the beginning of the school year, each parent is asked to send $2 for the birthday fund. This provides new experiences for the children, yet gives Marilyn control over the food products. Birthdays are celebrated on a monthly basis and treats are prepared at school as a group-centre project. 

The Grade 1 classroom is situated in close proximity to the office and Marilyn wears a pager at all times. If triggered, the pager sounds alarms in the office and at the local ambulance station. The parent has provided the classroom with non-allergenic soap and hand cream. When the student leaves the classroom, she wears gloves to protect her from tactile contact with peanuts and soy products in the school. In this and other ways, the school has shared the responsibility for the safety of this student and the staff find the procedures constructive and practical. The parent also wears a pager so she can be contacted at any time to answer questions or to be made aware of a reaction. 

"We have a safe program because we have all worked together to make it work. Everyone from the playground supervisors, janitorial staff, office staff, library personnel and parents volunteering in our school is part of our team and together we're building confidence in the system we have in place," concludes Diana Bolan, acting principal of Minchau School. The child's mother echoes these remarks. Her personal safety zone now includes knowing that anaphylaxis is manageable and that all safety and medical interventions are in place to allow her child to have the rewarding experience of going to school and meeting new friends. 

Site-based Modifications:

  • no-food area 
  • supervisors carry pagers, EpiPen and telephone 
  • student carries EpiPen in waist pack
  • teacher wears pager in classroom 
  • no carpet 
  • easy access to office and exits 
  • easy to keep clean 
  • no food brought in from outside 
  • student carries EpiPen in waist pack 
  • parent furnishes non-allergenic soap 
  • use "safe" products; e.g., paper and glue 
  • provide for desk and equipment washing 
  • student wears gloves to reduce likelihood of tactile contact with peanut products or oils 
  • safety procedure in place in the event of an emergency 
  • student is excused early for recess to avoid exposure to peanut and soy products 

The Awareness Series, which includes "A Teacher's Guide to Allergies," is available from Alberta Education's Learning Resources Distributing Centre
(780) 427-5775 at a cost of $5.15 + GST. The series includes 15 brochures. 

For additional copies, contact the Special Education branch. Copyright Alberta Education 1996. Permission is given to reproduce this article for educational purposes and on a non-profit basis.

For more information contact:

Calgary Allergy Network 

Lilly Byrtus, Regional Coordinator 
Allergy Asthma Information Association 
16531 - 114 Street, Edmonton, AB T5X 3V6 
Phone/Fax (780) 456-6651  email: [email protected]

Diana Bolan, Principal, Minchau Elementary School, 
3615 Millwoods Rd E, Edmonton, AB T6L 5X2 
Phone: (780) 461-0616 Fax: (780) 461-0837 

Special Education Branch 
10th floor, East Devonian Bldg., 11160 Jasper Ave. 
Edmonton, AB T5K 0L2, Phone: (780) 422-6326 Fax: (780) 422-2039 

Terms of Use: The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is for your general information only. We cannot be held responsible for anything you could possibly do or say because of information on this site.   Consult your family physician or allergist for specific questions or concerns. 


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