The ABCs Of Addressing Asthma And Allergies In Schools
Education and Advocacy Asthma and anaphylaxis is a growing public health issue. Parents and educators need to be alert to the risks, especially in the classroom environment to keep kids safe.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and according to health experts, when it comes to keeping children safe in school, the same logic applies.
“The wellbeing of our students within the school system is a shared responsibility,” says Chris Markham, the CEO of the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association.
This team-based approach is particularly important for children who suffer from asthma or severe allergies—which, if not managed properly, can be fatal.
Both chronic conditions are prevalent among young Canadians. According to Anaphylaxis Canada, approximately 300,000 Canadian children have identified food allergies. Asthma—which can be connected to allergies or an independent condition—affects an estimated 8.5 per cent of Canadians over the age of 12 and is a major cause of hospitalization of children.
"Sabrina Shannon was an ordinary Ontario teenager until the day she went to school and did not return home. The 13-year-old suffered a fatal allergic reaction to dairy after eating french fries served from the same tongs used for poutine."
Setting the standard
Sabrina Shannon was an ordinary Ontario teenager until the day she went to school and did not return home. The 13-year-old suffered a fatal allergic reaction to dairy after eating french fries served from the same tongs used for poutine.
In response to this tragedy, a bill was drafted to help ensure the safety of students with severe allergies. “Sabrina’s Law”— the first legislation of its kind in the world— requires all publicly funded schools in Ontario to have an “anaphylaxis action plan.”
The law was put into force in 2006 and mandates that schools create specific action plans for students with severe allergies, provide regular training to staff about how to spot signs and symptoms and treat reactions, and develop strategies to help minimize the exposure of allergens at schools.
“Sabrina’s Law provides schools with the key safety measures they need to consider when developing their anaphylaxis policies to help protect students at-risk,” explains Anaphylaxis Canada representative Beatrice Povolo.
Povolo describes Sabrina’s Law as the “leading North American standard” and adds that since the legislation was enacted, other provinces have created similar guidelines and no child has suffered from a fatal allergic reaction at a publicly funded school in Ontario.
Helping students breath easy at school
When it comes to children with asthma, there is still work to be done to ensure that students can breath easy while at school.
“Within schools boards across the province, there’s inconsistent application of processes to ensure that students with asthma have easy access to their medication,” says Ophea’s Markham.
A new bill, currently under consideration, hopes to change that. “Ryan’s Law” is inspired by Ryan Gibbons who died of an asthma attack in 2012 while his inhaler was in the school’s office. He was 12. If passed, the bill would put in place health and education strategies, including allowing Ontario students with asthma to carry their medication with them.
“[This law] would help prioritize the management of asthma in schools,” says Ontario Lung Association representative Chris Haromy, adding that like Sabrina’s Law, it would help standardize the approach to child safety.
In addition to making medicine readily available to children with asthma, Haromy says creating an “asthma friendly setting” requires everyone to be on the same page in terms of prevention, detection and treatment. This teamwork approach includes identifying students with asthma, ensuring they have easy access to their medication, reducing asthma triggers in schools, creating a process for handling worsening symptoms, and educating staff and students on asthma.
“The management of asthma isn’t just at home and it isn’t just at school. It’s in every location,” says Haromy, “[And] it involves everybody.”