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Educating Students With Severe Multiple Allergies

by Rick Hayes, Principal, and Gail Vander Vliet, Teacher, John Wilson Elementary School Elementary School, Chinook's Edge Regional Division No.5

Promising Practices in Special Education
Life-threatening Allergies (anaphylaxis) June 1996, Vol.2:4, Alberta Education Special Education Branch

The principal at John Wilson Elementary School in Innisfail, Rick Hayes, has always believed in a proactive approach to ensuring the safety of the more than 800 students attending the school. However this past year, the staff at John Wilson have had reason to expand their school safety procedures. A six-year-old student with asthma and severe multiple allergies registered for Grade 1 at the school. 

The parents of the child approached Grade 1 teacher Gail Vander Vliet prior to the school year and explained the severity of their child's asthma condition and allergic reactions to animal fur, grasses, pollen, mould, certain foods and bee stings. Because of the high probability that a bee sting could set off a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), the child carries an EpiPen (adrenalin kit) in a waist pack at all times. 

Gail immediately began networking with all personnel on staff who would have contact with the student. She also learned how to administer an EpiPen and to recognize the differences between the coughing and wheezing associated with asthma; the sneezing, itching and watery eyes that accompany an allergic reaction; and the breathing difficulties than indicate an onset of anaphylaxis. A photo of the student along with instructions regarding the use of the EpiPen were posted in the school office, at the recess door and in the student's classroom. 

Rick's response was to emphasize education, staff expertise and a well-developed school emergency plan. In the fall, the school sponsored an Asthma Workshop for staff and students. A representative from the health unit discussed asthma, allergies and anaphylaxis, and a local druggist explained the various treatments used to manage asthma and allergies. A second workshop was presented by local paramedics who demonstrated emergency procedures for choking, various resuscitation techniques and how to use items in the school's first aid kit. 

Rick also looked to the expertise of his own staff members. Fifteen people on staff at John Wilson are fully certified in first aid. One teacher on staff also has severe asthma. "This teacher was an important role model to all of us early on. Because she lives with asthma every day, she is able to bring a sense of normalcy to the situation and allay many of our concerns. She often sits in her office at lunch and uses her nebulizer, so she serves as a reminder that people with asthma and allergies can function in everyday environments," adds one staff member. 

Having a student with life-threatening allergies in the school has enabled Rick to appreciate more fully the procedures the school has in place for dealing with emergencies. For a number of years, the school has organized a CODE 99 team with staff members assigned to specific responsibilities, such as administering first aid, phoning 911, contacting parents, dealing with crowd control, directing the ambulance on site and meeting the needs and concerns of other students. 

Last fall, in cooperation with the local ambulance team, the school performed a simulated drill and timed the entire procedure. "I would encourage every school to do this. Pick the worst day, the worst weather, because that's when something will happen," Rick adds. Rick is also forthright about describing his emergency policy to parents. When there is any doubt concerning student health, an ambulance will be called. Rick also encourages parents to purchase student medical insurance early in the year, since the average cost for ambulance service in Innisfail is $250. 

School staff have made a number of procedural modifications in response to the needs of students with allergies and asthma. "We've realized that some students need to stay indoors during recess at certain times of the year. All our playground supervisors carry first aid kits and radios and wear red vests so they are easily visible to the students," states Rick. Locating these important items by the playground doors has been key to implementing this procedure. 

Having a school staff that is actively meeting the challenges and needs of its student population has been an encouragement to parents. "My children have missed a lot of school, especially during the winter months. If I know that the teachers really understand the gravity of the situation, and believe I am doing what is best for my children, it helps to build a sense of trust in the school," one parent commented. 

The staff at John Wilson Elementary School have actively created that climate of trust. Through education, staff expertise, procedural modifications and a well-developed plan for handling emergency situations, the staff, students and parents are working together to ensure that the dignity and well-being of all students, including those with severe multiple allergies are respected. 

Emergency Procedures 

  • CODE 99 staff emergency response team and back-up team: 
    • phone 911 
    • administer first aid 
    • manage crowd control 
    • direct ambulance on-site 
    • handle concerns of other students 
  • Playground supervisors: 
    • carry first aid kits 
    • carry radios 
    • wear red vests 
  • Simulate drills throughout the school year 
  • Build student responsibility 

The Awareness Series, which includes "A Teacher's Guide to Allergies," is available from Alberta Education's Learning Resources Distributing Centre at (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:


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

Rick Hayes, Principal, John Wilson Elementary School, 
4457 - 51 Ave., Innisfail, AB T4G 1A7 
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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