Food allergy anxiety is something that teachers, as well as food allergic students and their families, need to address when planning safe and inclusive activities.
It has been a busy couple of weeks with standardized testing, so I wanted to do something special for my class kids. What better way to let loose and blow off some steam than to celebrate with a party?! There wasn’t any room in the budget for the party, but the kids worked so hard, and I wanted to reward them. So I paid out-of-pocket for some of the party expenses. Between the never-ending stack of papers to grade and lessons to plan, frankly, I could use a little break too. I planned this fun balloon activity that I think the kids will really enjoy. This activity required a little extra attention to detail. I have a student in my class that is allergic to latex. I made sure to purchase a mylar balloon for him so he could still be included in the activity.
The day of the party arrived. The kids could hardly contain their excitement for the much-needed change of pace. I start passing out the balloons to my students, ensuring my student with allergies got the mylar balloon. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t necessarily go as planned. One student always deviates from the plan just to get a laugh out of his peers. This sets off a chain reaction. Before long, a group of kids is blowing up their balloons and releasing them into the air.
Before redirecting the group of students, I notice the boy who has a latex allergy but who is also inquisitive raising his hand. I ask him to hold his question until after the activity and gently wave him off to address more pressing issues. I am doing my best to get the distracted students back on track when the room suddenly grows suspiciously quiet. I glance over to see a parent hovering over one of my students with an EpiPen in hand.
In my attempts to redirect my class, I failed to notice my student with allergies was trying to alert me that he needed my help. He was having an allergic reaction. His mother rushed him out of my classroom. I stood there in shock. I didn’t recognize the signs in the middle of the chaos of anaphylaxis.
I underestimated the seriousness of my student’s allergies. Not for lack of caring but simply for not understanding just how quickly things can escalate out of control leading to a near-fatal reaction.
Later that day, I received word that my student was going to be okay. I had to get my friend to cover my class – I simply couldn’t hold in the tears another minute. What had I almost done?
I was relieved the next day when the student returned to school. His parents asked me, the principal, our nurse to sit down with them to review their child’s allergy plan. I honestly thought I was going to be fired – or at the very least screamed at. My principal already had a very intense conversation with me the previous day. It is my job to protect my students, and I was willing to do anything in my power to prevent this sort of incident from happening in the future.
We were all lucky that day, the child recovered fully. I learned and our whole administration learned a valuable lesson that we work to share with our colleagues around the district and state about how quickly a reaction can happen. Food allergy anxiety is a big factor for us teachers when we plan lessons or other activities, and channeling these concerns into proactive strategies is key to making the classroom safe for our children.