Saturday, October 17, 2009

My Private School Experience

When my daughter Carlese was in second grade at a public school here in Connecticut, she missed quite a few days due to her food allergies and asthma. By the end of the year she was so far behind the other 2nd graders, the principal at the time, really felt she was not academically ready for 3rd grade.

I really struggled with how Carlese might feel by being held back and I looked for other options. Fortunately, my job at the time gave me the financial stability to be able to place her into a private school
for 3rd grade. So into a private school she went.

Some immediate benefits I saw was the smaller class size which meant more individualized attention.  I was also very pleased with the curriculum. Yes, there were many things I was very excited about. However, there were some circumstances I did not anticipate on encounering.

I was under the impression that there was a full-time nurse at the school, but this was not the case. The nurse practitioner was only at the school a couple of days a week. This meant that the teachers and staff would need training in administering the Epi-pen and making medical decisions.

Four months went by during the school year and things seemed okay until an incident occurred which was very upsetting. There was a party scheduled for the class and the teacher brought in a candy for Carlese to have.

The teacher was very aware of Carlese's food allergies and asthma and I was shocked that she would give her a food she had not checked out with me. I proceeded to call the teacher to try to discuss this and I also talked with the principal.

The principal's comment to me about the teacher calling me on the food item was this, "The teacher doesn't have to call you to give you the ingredients over the phone. We have the list of items Carlese is allergic to and we check everything by that list. There are other children with allergies and this is what we have done for them in the past."

That principal obviously did not understand the severity of Carlese's allergies. And he did not have any education on the possibility of some companies having cross-contamination issues. Many companies don't list the cross-contamination of milk or tree nut products being made at their facilities. This means that as a parent, I need to call those companies to find out what type of products are made in their facility.

Just reading a label is not enough when it comes to children with food allergies. And to have a principal in a private school actually tell me the teacher does not need to call me with the ingredients was just shocking.

Needless to say, we began attending a public school about two weeks later. In comparison to  the private school, the principal and teachers at the public school were strong advocates of communicating about food ingredients. And no foods would even be brought into to the classroom for parties during the year without my approval.

Please learn from my experiences and make sure the principal and the teachers at your private school are willing to be in constant communication with you. And that your private school has a full-time nurse.

And by all means, run in the other direction if the head of the school tells you, they are not going to tell you what the ingredients are in the foods they are giving to your child. A statement like that is from someone you do not want leading your child's school or possibly risking your child's life.

Stay well, stay safe and be brave.

Debra Denhart

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