According to numbers from the Food Allergy Research & Education website, researchers estimate that 32 million Americans have food allergies, including 5.6 million under the age of 18 – equal to one in 13 children, or approximately two to every classroom.
Because of that, school districts are required to closely monitor the offerings in cafeterias and throughout the campus to avoid any allergic incidents. The PineBelt News takes a look at some of the policies at districts in the area.
PETAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
At the Petal School District, where a Petal High School student recently suffered two allergic reactions to peanut products, officials are looking at ways to better inform and educate students on the risks of food allergies.
“We’re looking at ways to spread awareness of food allergies as a whole,” superintendent Matt Dillon said. “It’s important that we educate our staff and students regarding food allergies so we can better understand the situation these students are going through.
“There was an incident, and leaders are working with building administration and now students. We’ll be working with staff on ways that we can create awareness for the schools.”
The district does have a procedural approach in which a student can notify officials of any allergies, at which point those allergies are noted in the student’s medical record that is kept with a nurse in every school in the district. From there, administration can build an action plan on how to address that issue in that particular building.
“We’re soliciting feedback from our student body to better understand how we can come together to have awareness around our campuses,” Dillon said.
LAMAR COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Lamar County School District does permit substitutions for students with special needs, but a statement from a physician supporting a student’s condition and prescribed substitution must be submitted to the Child Nutrition Department as soon as diagnosed. In addition, a medical statement for milk allergies is required for each school year.
A medical statement from a physician must be on file annually in order for the school district to meet the student’s special dietary requirements.
The district serves food with peanuts – one of the eight major food allergens – on Thursdays, and has made all parents of peanut-allergic children aware of that policy.
District superintendent Tess Smith said she can recall only one instance of a student in the district suffering an allergic reaction at school, but the incident was caused from food brought from home rather than cafeteria food.
FORREST COUNTY AHS
Because Forrest County Agricultural High School serves only grades from 9 through 12, officials there deal with food allergies perhaps a little less than in other districts.
“We do have a form for kids to fill out – it’s part of our registration packet,” superintendent Donna Boone said. “But really, we’re a high school only. By the time they get to us, they know what their allergies are.”
In addition, the school offers a salad bar for students choosing that option.
“In our cafeteria, you always have a choice,” Boone said. “Some of our feeder schools, those from K-8, they don’t have a salad bar. They may have different choices, but I can’t answer for them.”