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ARTICLES

Students with Anaphylaxis: Welcoming Parent-led Initiatives

by Doug Chase, Principal, Mel Bosch, Assistant Principal, Cathi Cross and Diane Mack, Teachers, Bertha Kennedy Catholic Community School, Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division No. 29

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


A group of parents at Bertha Kennedy Elementary school in St. Albert are the driving force behind a number of initiatives to ensure the safety of students with allergies at the school. 

Eleven students in the school have nut allergies, and several others have allergies to milk or grain products. The parents of these children have formed a close knit group, that through the years has had a significant influence on the school. 

"Whenever we have a problem I ask myself, 'Who is in the best position to assert control?'" comments Doug Chase, principal. "In this instance, it is clearly the parents who have been the driving force behind many of the procedures we now have in place. It was parents, individually and collectively, saying, 'this is what we want'". 

Because students with life-threatening allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) do not always carry their EpiPens (adrenalin kits) with them, their parents encouraged the recess supervisors on the playground to carry walkie-talkies and first aid packs that contain EpiPens. The staff were trained to administer the EpiPen and other first aid procedures by several of the parents, one a local physician. It is evident that the parents and staff at Bertha Kennedy have built a high degree of mutual respect. "The parents here have been great," acknowledges teacher Cathi Cross. "If we have any questions they're the first people we go to." 

Parents have helped to allay the concerns of staff about administering the EpiPen to a student. "I would give it right away, with no qualms," remarked one teacher. "Knowing it would not harm the student is a great relief. At the same time, though, I want to be cautious and would try to involve at least one other adult if at all possible." 

As well as educating the staff, parents of children with severe allergies, through the support of the school's parent council, have held a number of meetings with other parents to share information regarding the seriousness of anaphylaxis. "The mother of a child in my class who has an allergy to peanuts, is the classroom phone mom so she has contact with all the other parents throughout the year," comments teacher Diane Mack. At one time, several parents approached the district board lawyers with a request to legislate Bertha Kennedy a nut-free school, but the request was never made an official policy. 

"I would hesitate to put any policy in place unless I felt strongly that I could enforce it," asserted Assistant Principal Mel Bosch. "We really can't legislate a no-peanut rule. But we can inform our parent population and we can ask for their cooperation." The parents and staff have learned that being too forceful can engender opposition, so they are presently striving to foster greater parent understanding and cooperation through sharing information, especially in those classes containing students with severe allergies. 

Another responsibility parents have undertaken is that of educating their children. Especially important is teaching children to avoid eating anything unless they are absolutely certain of the ingredients. "The rule in my home is, if you're not sure, don't eat it," explains one student. However, the recent discovery that products such as ice cream can contain peanut oil residue, even though it is not listed as an ingredient, has heightened a sense of product wariness among the staff and students. Parents also ensure that their children assume age-appropriate responsibility for their own well-being, such as informing student interns or substitute teachers about their allergies. 

With several students making the transition to junior high school this year, the parents, staff and students at Bertha Kennedy are working together to take the expertise they have developed over the years into a new setting. Most importantly, they have encouraged in these students, as they have in all the others, strong problem-solving skills. Their hope is that as these students progress to situations where they might have less control over their environments, they will be able to make the necessary individual and contextual modifications to ensure their personal health and safety. 

Parent-led Initiatives

Educate staff and playground supervisors in:
  • use of Epipens 
  • other emergency procedures 
  • carry communication devices and EpiPens at recess 
Educate parents of other children:
  • through involvement in the school council 
  • through classroom contact 
  • through newsletters and meetings 
  • through participation in hot lunch programs 
Educate their children:
  • being label conscious 
  • age-appropriate self-management procedures 
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  Website:  https://calgaryallergy.ca 

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

Doug Chase, Principal, Bertha Kennedy Elementary School 
175 Larose Dr., St. Albert AB T8N 2G7 
Phone: (780) 458-6101 Fax: (780) 458-8360 

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


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