LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Across Calcasieu Parish schools, approximately 500 students have a food-related allergy. Of those, about 215 students are severely allergic to nuts. Administrators and educators with Calcasieu Parish go above and beyond to make sure students stay healthy and safe at school.
While lunchtime should be a safe place to relax, eat and socialize with friends, for T.S. Cooley Elementary School third-grader Ethan Richard, lunchtime is anything but that.
“I wish I could sit with my other friends at the other table,” said Ethan. “So I could talk, instead of having to sit here reading.”
Ethan has a severe tree nut allergy and says when he eats something that has nuts in it, he feels like he can’t breathe and his “throat starts to clog up.”
Because of this, he stays away from nuts and products with nuts altogether.
At T.S. Cooley, peanut-free tables are set up to give students with nut allergies a safe place to eat lunch without worrying about cross-contamination.
Assistant Principal Melina Fralick said her staff and administration are trained to handle emergencies, such as food allergy emergencies, in addition to having a school nurse available. She said everyone is made well aware of students’ needs like Ethan’s.
“We also don’t allow any homemade treats, because you never know about cross-contamination,” said Fralick. “If they (the students) bring anything, they’re highly encouraged not to bring snacks with nuts.”
She said if homemade snacks are brought to the classroom, the school will decide whether or not to serve it to the students. If the snack is served, the school has nut-free snacks on standby for those students with an allergy.
But it’s not just the snacks that are monitored. Cafeteria workers keep an eye out as well.
When the student completes the lunch line, their name is entered into the system. A notification will pop up on the screen alerting cafeteria workers if that student has an allergy.
“It’ll list the allergies and it gives our staff a chance to verify that that plate is safe,” said Jacqueline Richard, school nutrition program director for Calcasieu Parish School Board.
She said each school requires parents to provide a medication form to document the student’s medical needs in the event of an emergency. That information is then entered into their computer database so administrators at the school are aware of the student and their medical needs.
But, according to Jacqueline, what might work at the elementary level—like the peanut-free tables at T.S. Cooley—most likely won’t work at the high school level. And that’s why in Calcasieu Parish, there is no district-wide procedure when it comes to handling food allergies.
“We’ve only had to administer epinephrine twice in the past year,” said Jacqueline.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing, keeping cafeteria tables clean and sanitized, and having open communication between student, parent and school are the best ways to stay safe.
“I know how to look on the back and look at the labels,” said Ethan. “Like at the very bottom if it says the ingredients like if it says no nuts, like or processed in facility with nuts too.”
Knowing what to look for and avoiding those triggers every day; giving some peace of mind for his parents back at home.
Right now, CPSB is working to implement a program which will provide “stock” epinephrine at schools for students who may have an unknown allergen with possibly anaphylaxis. The school board hopes to have this program in place within the next few months.
Immaculate Conception Catholic School (ICCS) in Lake Charles is completely nut-free for a few years now. A spokesperson from the private school said no nut products are served in the cafeteria or in the classrooms, and students are not allowed to bring nut products in their lunchboxes.
“Teachers check lunch bags and snack boxes every single morning to ensure all items brought in to the school are safe,” Kay Morgan, Director of Development at ICCS said. “We take this policy very seriously.”
But one small school may be easier to control in comparison to an entire school system like the CPSB.
Parents unsure of school’s protocols when dealing with food allergies should consult with student’s teacher or administration.