Texas School Food Allergy Guidelines Set to Make an Impact

Thanks to Efforts of Student and Family Advocates

Texas becomes 15th state to adopt statewide guidelines for management of food allergies in a school setting 

School food allergy guidelines in Texas were published in May – the result of a dedicated effort by children, parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and policymakers to ensure that schools are prepared to care for kids with potentially life-threatening food allergies.

Michael Lade with son Andrew during the 2009 Houston Food Allergy Walk. The 2012 walk will tale place on September 8th.

Last year, children from across Texas gathered on the steps of the capitol in Austin for a rally to call attention for the need for statewide food allergy management guidelines. Together with their parents, and supported by numerous organizations including the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), they reached their goal to help make schools safer for kids like them.

“We have so many kids with food allergies in Texas. Our schools need help in understanding the risks we face every day and how to better manage them.  I was proud to be among the students who successfully advocated for this law,” said Madeleine Sides, age 14, who is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.

The guidelines are the result of SB 27, a bill that was authored by Senator Judith Zaffirini and sponsored by Representative Dan Branch.  “Schools should be safe havens for all children, including those with food allergies,” Zaffirini said. “These guidelines will help save lives and are a testament to the dedication of the children with food allergies and their parents who were among our most persuasive advocates for this important legislation.”

Public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must adopt and administer policies for the care of students with food allergies at risk for anaphylaxis, based on the published guidelines, by August 1, 2012.

The guidelines were developed by the Texas Department of State Health Services along with an ad-hoc committee of experts that included representatives from FAAN; FAI; the Texas School Nurses Organization; the Texas Pediatric Society; the Texas Medical Association; the Texas Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society; school staff and school administrators.

Published research has shown that 1 in 13 children in the U.S. – roughly two in every classroom – has food allergies. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room for treatment.

Mike Lade, a food allergy parent from Houston, Vice Chair of FAAN’s Board of Directors and a member of the ad-hoc committee noted, “The guidelines provide all Texas school districts with the knowledge they need to understand and manage food allergies and the risk of anaphylaxis in the school environment.  Importantly, the guidelines address the steps that every Texas school can take to prevent reactions from occurring on school campuses, to recognize the symptoms of a reaction, to administer lifesaving epinephrine, and to enact emergency protocols when needed.”

Laurie Combe, school health issues chair for the Texas School Nurses Organization said, “The guidelines encourage collaboration among all stakeholders and provide a set of proven practices that will make the entire school staff more efficient and effective in keeping food-allergic students safe at school. All schools in Texas will benefit from the new guidelines.”

“Studies have shown that 16-18 percent of food allergy reactions happen in schools, and that children are at risk for having their first allergic reaction in school,” said Mary Jane Marchisotto, Executive Director, FAI.  “We applaud Texas for taking a leadership role in establishing these guidelines.”

The Texas guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of food allergy and anaphylaxis, signs and symptoms of a reaction, treatment of anaphylaxis, how to develop and implement emergency care plans, training for school staff, and more. They also call for a focus on environmental controls in the school setting and provide guidance for school districts to consider obtaining non-student specific epinephrine as allowed by Texas law.

For more information about food allergy, visit www.foodallergy.org and www.faiusa.org.