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Celiac Kids in Canadian Schools

Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Summer 2017 Issue 07/20/2017 - It is common for school teachers in the United States not to know what student has celiac disease, or allergies of any sort. Most schools don't have formal systems so that the principal, school nurse, teacher, or cafeteria workers know when a child has celiac disease or food allergies. An informal game of roulette is played, where everyone assumes that everything is fine – that is, until a child has a heath reaction.

In Montreal, Canada, the Lester B Pearson School Board has taken a different approach to dealing with food allergies and conditions such as celiac disease that their students might have. They regard these health conditions to be so important that how to handle them is present in their official Policy on Safe and Caring Schools.

To summarize what they do, at the beginning of each school year parents are sent a form requesting them to inform the principal, homeroom teacher, and other relevant school personnel about health conditions and allergies. This includes children who have celiac disease and gluten issues. If a child changes schools, or if a student in an existing school gets a new health diagnosis or has newly identified health needs, this information should be made known to school personnel.

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A photograph of the student is taken and put on a card with the health condition so that others in charge may know that a particular child has gluten issues. In the cafeteria, workers have the photos of the children posted in the kitchen where they can see them so that they can know that brown-haired Lucinda in fifth-grade has celiac disease and should be served only foods that are safe for her. Children may not know what foods have gluten in them and which do not, so they may not always be the best informants for identifying which foods being served are safe for them and which are not.

Given that additives may vary according who is doing the cooking or what ingredients are used, a food like macaroni and cheese may be made with wheat pasta, making it unsafe, or corn, rice or quinoa pasta, rendering it acceptable. Both may look identical to the naked eye, but they aren't so it is a food service worker's obligation to know whether Lucinda can have the dish or not. Likewise, teachers may be given the photograph and health card so that they remember when Billy brings in cupcakes for his birthday celebration, that there are gluten-free ones available (hopefully!) in the cafeteria freezer that can be pulled out and given to Lucinda so she is not left out. The photograph technique is especially helpful when there are new cafeteria workers or substitute teachers or other personnel who may not know a child's food allergy situation like someone who interacts with the child every day might.

The Lester B Pearson schools' Food and Nutrition Policy is based in Canada's Food Guide and Policy on Health Eating and Active Living. All schools in Canada are to adhere to the same set of standards. This means that a celiac child living in Vancouver should be just as safe eating at school as one in Ottawa or one in Halifax. Having national standards that are uniformly enforced helps to make all children safe. Making sure that children's food consumption is safe for all of them, especially in public institutions like schools, is part of their human rights according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is the responsibility of adults who are in local parent organizations to be in charge of the oversight and safety of all children and to think through food risk and safety policies. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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24 Jul 2017 5:33:38 AM PDT
Great article and it is and I'm sure, will continue to be an issue of concern for my family. My daughter (5 years old) has celiac and her school (last year in JK) was not prepared for exactly what that is. The teacher had posted it on the classroom wall (posted as a "glutten" sensitivity) so that was a positive but it means almost nothing if certain protocols aren't in place. For example, all staff were not aware of what celiac disease is or even what might or may not contain gluten. Her own classroom's ECE (Early Childhood Educator) offered her cookie mid-way through the year. Luckily my wife was in volunteering that day so she stopped the potential issue before it went beyond the offering stage. Throughout the year there were events whereby students were given cookies (for special occasions/events)and other gluten containing foods and my daughter simply had to watch the others eat away. Well, it was her and another boy that had an egg allergy. On her school play day, they had ice cream trucks,hot dogs,hamburgers, etc and zero gluten free options. The same occurred for her school's spring BBQ. Yet, the one allergy everyone is made fully aware of is a peanut allergy. This coming year, my wife and I will be going in to speak with the (new) Principal BEFORE the school year starts. I will putting together a letter for him and the teacher to keep on file. It will outline what celiac disease is and ways the school/classroom could provide alternatives so that my daughter doesn't have to be left out of any event that includes consuming food. I'm also going to help educate staff during a staff meeting. I'm a teacher myself so I know how valuable I find it when a speaker comes in to speak with us at my school about various topics. Staff members tend to be more attentive during a staff meeting and they're all in one place so the message will be delivered to everyone. Hopefully this coming year goes well, or at least is an improvement to what last year was like. Thanks again for the article.

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