Food Allergies at Elementary School

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • We are currently waiting to find out about our child’s OUSD assignment as well as some private school admission decisions. If we get in to the private schools I really don’t know what we will do. Our child will be in kindergarten. I would love to hear from anyone who was in a similar situation about how you ultimately decided on the public or private path.

    Also, our child has some serious food allergies and I would be interested in hearing from food allergy parents on how your OUSD or private school has handled allergies. 

    Our child with food allergy attended OUSD school in the past and is currently at a private school. Schools are all very accommodating. If the allergy involves peanuts/nuts, don't worry. Schools were/are nut-free! The only time we have to be careful is when parents bring things in for birthdays or if there's a pot luck. Teachers are very on top of allergies and should coordinate with you. You'll also have medication at the school with doctor's note and instructions. If there's an incident, the school will take an action. 

    When we were deciding public v. private, we first went public because we felt very strongly that it's important for middle class families to send kids to public school. We read many studies that child's ultimate educational success depends on the parents' educational level and socio-economic status. We felt that our graduate degrees and decent salaries would mean our child would be fine at a public or private school, and we could not stomach the private school tuition. (We do not qualify for financial aid, but don't make enough to not feel the pain of paying tuition.)

    A few years into OUSD, it was clear that our child's needs were not being met at OUSD. I have an extremely stressful and demanding job. I do not have the bandwidth to advocate for my child's education at OUSD to the extent that was necessary for us to have a chance at improving the quality of the instruction that my child was getting. We got our child evaluated by OUSD psychologist who told us that there are no programs for advanced children. I was deeply disappointed by OUSD's inability to educate and enrich my child who is bright and eager to learn more and faster than their peers. 

    We switched to a small progressive private school where our child is allowed to explore and expand their intellectual curiosity and not be held back by the state dictated minimum curriculum requirements and teacher's classroom management efforts. At our private school, I can trust that our child's education is being handled well. School is no longer a source of stress for me. Peace of mind I have about my child's school and hearing how much my child loves their new school are worth the financial sacrifice we're making. At OUSD, child was beginning to develop deep hatred toward school. I'm glad we course corrected. 

    Hi, we are a BUSD family but I just wanted to say that you and your food allergy kid should plan to fiercely self-advocate at any school.  I have two kids who have severe food allergies and made a point of having a lot of communication with my kids' teachers.  There was a wide range of how well teachers understood the seriousness of the issue and what to do.  I provided alternate birthday treats, and generally said that if there was any doubt, the kid should take any food from school home, not eat it at school.  BUSD dining services was great accommodating my kid's egg and milk allergies so he could eat hot lunch, even without me getting an official 504.  If your kid is going to be in after school I'd have a conversation with that program person too.  I do think it's worth minimizing the amount of "special" treatment your kid needs to stay safe, just because it sets your kid apart and they will want to fit in.  We unfortunately had one bullying incident in elementary school.   Your kid is also going to need to learn to ask questions about what's in food, say what their allergies are, pass on eating food that might be offered to them, and speak up if they start feeling like they're having a reaction even if they don't think they ate an allergen.  My kids had multiple ER visits before they started school so they were able to understand the importance of this, but we talked about speaking up and asking questions a LOT.  And they learned to do it, even in preschool!  As a side note, we have done OIT and it's absolutely changed their lives - we still carry epi but they now eat everything!  

    We just went through this same decision last year. We have a very well regarded neighborhood school and really wanted to support OUSD, however we have a kid with multiple severe food allergies including uncommon allergens. Obviously lots of kids with allergies do great at OUSD, but we were concerned about the large size of our school (near 500) and communication especially with larger class sizes. I was not comfortable with subs who may not be epi-pen trained or oversight at recess by people who did not know my kid. I also need aftercare and felt I would need to hire an after school nanny which I preferred not to have to deal with. If we had a single common allergy and could do a nut free classroom I would not have worried, but this was not our situation. Ultimately we chose to go to Aurora and have been super happy with our decision. Education has been excellent with small class sizes, making learning fun, and excellent social emotional curriculum. It's a wonderful small community and I love being able to go to the Tuesday assemblies. It's clearly debatable whether it is worth the hefty price tag, but my kid is super happy, and it's a very different experience than what I have heard from other OUSD parents. Communication about allergies and other health concerns have been excellent. Teachers frequently check in about items they are using to make sure they are safe. In the younger grades she always has a teacher and full time teachers assistant, so even if someone is out there is always someone that knows her in the class. Her teacher or TA are there at lunch/recess. Aftercare is a small program with a handful of staff who work for Aurora and know my kid. The peace of mind has been priceless for us. We applied to a couple other private schools that we would also have been happy at academically, but were unwilling to have a peanut free classroom or were hesitant to make any special accommodations. Good luck with your decision, and feel free to contact me if you have questions! 

    Our child is allergic to peanuts and several different tree nuts. Food allergy has never been an issue at schools. Both public and private schools handle food allergy pretty well these days, and I've found schools to be inclusive and nut-free. We have always packed our own lunch and never relied on school lunch, however. I have a friend whose child is allergic to eggs, nuts, and dairy, and they, too, haven't had issues. Again, they also pack their own lunch to school. We are always mindful of our child's allergy at group gatherings and always carry allergy medication just in case. We are currently at a small progressive school in Oakland, which is such a warm and inclusive environment. Because it's a small school, all the school staff and teachers know my child and are fully aware of her allergy. At many social events (birthday celebrations, parent coffee/tea, picnics, playdates, etc.), food choices are very inclusive of everyone, offering options for vegan, gluten-free, nut-free as well as conventional options. Voice your allergy, and the community will welcome you and work with you.  Because of my child's allergy, the entire class is peanut and tree nut-free. This is so wonderful, as my child doesn't have to feel excluded and quarantined off at the nut-free table.

    In terms of public v. private, this is such a difficult decision. We debated when we were starting K. We initially decided to give OUSD a try, because we did not have enough money to pay for private school but we did not qualify for financial aid. Our financial advisor told us that private school was not a smart financial decision. We also loved the idea of our child going to a neighborhood school where she'll get to know kids nearby and we felt really good about supporting OUSD by enrolling in one. 

    After 3 years at OUSD, we could not tolerate OUSD anymore. Child was unhappy because she was not learning and often annoyed at classmates' behavioral issues. Because she was advanced and followed rules, she felt that the teacher didn't pay attention to her. She craved intellectual stimulation and enrichment which we could not find at our high ranked OUSD school. Her OUSD school PE class required kids to lie down on a concrete surface to do sit ups, and child complained that it hurt her back and she did not like getting dirt on her hair.  I was shocked that there was no mat for PE. Teachers told us that our child needed to work on paying attention in class. At first, we thought our child had attention deficit issues. It turns out that child was simply bored and unengaged.

    We're so happy at our small progressive school in Oakland where our child is seen and heard and celebrated for who she is and is being challenged to stretch her imagination.  It was nice to have saved some money while attending OUSD, but child says she wishes she could have joined her current school from K.  She used to complain that school is pointless and the only reason school exists is for parents to go to work. Now, at her new school, she can't stop talking about things she has learned and built at school and games that she and her friends have come up with. The difference we see in her is night and day, and we feel that it's worth every penny for her to love learning. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Kindergarten for child with severe food allergies

Oct 2015

What elementary schools in Oakland Unified School District or surrounding area have proven to be a good fit for a child with severe food allergies? Our child is anaphylactic to peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, egg, wheat, soy, sesame and sunflower. We carry an epipen everywhere we go and have taught him to be extremely careful around food. But with cross contact, even the playground may contain hazards. Because his allergies are so extreme and in so many common food/meals, finding a school that can best reduce risk and keep him safe is a daunting task. I don't think we can go private as we also have another child and cost would be prohibitive but would love to hear good and bad experiences with specific schools (whether public or private). Homeschooling is not an option as we are a double income family. Mostly looking to find a school and classrooms that are not too large, where a 504 plan will be executed and communication is strong. We would also need after school care. Does such a place exist?
Food Allergy Slayer

I suggest the Mills College Children's School. My daughter went there for preschool & so I can recommend it in general, but one of my colleagues has a child who has very severe nut and dairy allergy issues and sends her to MCCS because of the level of attention they are able to give to her. It's my understanding that they wash down the chairs and tables before her daughter eats lunch, in addition to checking food, etc. so there is no cross contamination. MCCS fan

I've seen the question about schools for kids with food allergies a few times and I wanted to chime in with a dimension that only became apparent after two or three years in school. Our son is allergic to tree nuts, only to the point that eating a very small amount will cause his eyes to water and his mouth to itch. He has been able to avoid nuts at lunchtime and in classroom snacks because the teachers know about his allergy. The problematic situations have been enrichment classes and field trips where the food allergy hasn't been communicated to the enrichment teacher or to the docent leading the field trip. In two separate enrichment classes the teacher either used nuts as a decoration for the item they were working on, or offered the kids cookies with nuts to celebrate the last class. On a field trip the docent, in his mid 60's, very knowledgeable about his subject but not anticipating food allergies, wanted the kids to carve acorn nuts into beads for a bracelet. For the enrichment classes I had to meet my kid at the school with Benadryl and for the field trip I was there and said he should not carve the acorn nut because the oils would get on his hands. Even though I constantly train my kid to ask ''does it have nuts,'' as a kindergartener all he saw was ''cookie'' and so he didn't ask until after he ate it. He is also allergic to fish, which the extended care person did not believe, and so she double checked with me (fortunately) about why he wasn't eating the tuna fish snack. I would encourage you to talk directly to anybody who is ever looking after your kid ever and remind them of the food allergy.

Yes, it is OK to be ''That Mom'' for food allergies

If you are looking for a school that handles life-threatening food allergies extremely well, consider The Berkeley School. Our daughter (now 9) has the nearly all the same allergies as your son in terms of variety and severity and has been thriving there for 6 years. All the teachers and staff are incredibly careful with food allergy issues (e.g., regular reminders by e mail to the families and information on class blogs). Our daughters classmates know of her allergies and look out for her. Her teachers have also supported our daughter in learning to advocate for herself so she doesn't hesitate to interrogate any adult on the ingredients in any shared food items. Best of all, it's a great school with a challenging and engaging curriculum and terrific community. been there

Social implications for allergic kids in public school

Sept 2015

Dear parents with kids in grades K-5,

Does anyone know if any of the BUSD elementary schools, especially in the NW zone, have policies that don't alienate kids with severe food allergies? My pre-K daughter has a fatal peanut allergy and the thought of her sitting at a ''special'' lunch table every day makes me cringe...and that's aside from the thought of her going into anaphylactic shock.

I also wonder if any of the schools have a PTA that is aware, supportive, and proactive to protect kids with life-threatening allergies and also to educate other parents and kids about why it is serious.

Navigating the jump into K-5 is tough as it is, and I further worry about the social implications of my kid's situation. I'd really like to not have to go broke paying for private school.

I am not making a political statement here about other kids' ''rights'' to eat pb&j sandos and would appreciate if replies were sincere and helpful.

Many thanks in advance!
Peanut butter jelly and a baseball bat and an epi pen

My kids aren't in BUSD, but at their school rather than sequester the allergic kids they sequester the kids with nuts in their lunch at a ''nut table''. I don't know if this is sufficient for your daughter's safety, but this solution has been pretty popular with most of the parents at our school. It puts the focus on the food rather than on the kids with allergies, and I think it's a dignified solution that works in many cases. Becky

My best friend's daughter is in the same boat and here is the deal: You cannot protect her from being exposed to peanuts (and potentially dying) unless she is separate. My friend's daughter (who is deathly allergic to all nuts and recently was rushed to the ER because an errant cashew ended up in a cookie she ate) says that the allergic kids have formed a little ''club'' at their school and actually enjoy their lunches together. I hate to say this, but there is no fix for your daughter unless you want to put her life at risk. I am lucky to have a non-allergic daughter, but I can promise you I would rather have her away from peanuts then feel accepted at lunch time. This will pass, she will adjust. Keep Her Safe

I know that some BUSD elementary schools do it the other way.... where if kids bring nuts in their lunch, they have to sit at a separate table. With the level of severity of your daughter's allergy, I am not sure this would be ideal, but socially it is nice. I would reach out the the principal and the district to find out how they've dealt with this type of allergy in the past? BUSD mom

I'm shocked this is an issue. We have nut-free classrooms and schools in WCCUSD.

I don't think that you need to be concerned. No parents in any of my son's schools send PB&J sandwiches for lunch. There's at least one kid in every grade with some kind of nut allergy. There are no special tables at our schools, they just ban nut products. While parents may have complained in the past, we're all pretty well trained now. This isn't just in school, it's in after-care and camps as well.

One thing that you will need is to ask the school for a medical treatment form and start working on getting your doctor to complete it before school starts next year. No worries about being singled out 

Peanut allergic son starting public kindergarten

Oct 2010

My peanut allergic son will be entering kindergarten at our neighborhood school in 2011. As far as I know, the school does not have any kind of comprehensive nut policy. I am just starting to figure this whole thing out so I thought I would start on BPN. If you have (or had) a peanut-allergic child at a WCCUSD school, can you please share with me what steps you had to take to insure your child's safety? Thanks in advance. Amy

You need to talk with the office before school starts and make sure you fill out the proper forms so that appropriate medical equipment can be kept in the office. Follow up with the classroom teacher as early as possible to make sure he/she knows about the allergy and can pass on the information to other families. Make sure you check in with both the office and teacher at the beginning of every school year. It might help to offer an appropriate sign to the teacher to post, about whether the allergy is to all nuts and seeds, or just peanuts.

I would also give your child explicit instructions on what they can and can't eat if others bring in treats and what to do if they have a reaction.

Keep in mind your child may, at least starting in first grade, eat in a large room with many classes and that children often bring in birthday or other treats into the classroom to share, depending on individual teacher and school policy. WCCUSD teacher

Starting kindergarten with severe nut allergy

May 2005

My child who will be entering kindergarten in the fall, has a severe tree nut allergy. While we have managed just fine in the fabulous cocoon of our very conscientious preschool, I'm wondering if there are parents of children like mine, and seek your advice as to how you cope with exposures. My child has severe reactions if food with nuts touches other food he ingests. We suspect, but aren't really certain if his sensitivity is increasing, so I'm concerned/nervous about him entering grade school, where there is more independence, as well as less monitoring. I make nearly everything he eats, as in nothing is processed except in my home, and he doesn't eat food from others, except when okayed, but still I fret. We do plan to do education within his classroom and school, but I'm looking for some wisdom from experience. Thanks. anon

I don't have a child with a food allergy but two of my kids have been in school or on teams with kids with very severe peanut/nut allergies. Once the child's parents educated the other parents - and their own child - there were no problems. But it seemed that a big part of it was the child him/herself learning to question what might be in the food they were eating. Of course this was easier with a 12 yr old than a 6 year old. Having teachers reiterate the message in communications from school also helps - without naming the child - especially when it comes to birthday treats. One mom of such a child provided a list to the other parents of what things her child shouldn't have that might not be obvious. My own son began to check the labels for ''made in a factory that processes peanuts'' to protect his teammate. Good luck. Another mom

Peanut allergy and (public)schools

Feb 2003

My second child has a strong peanut allergy. He is also going to kindergarten in the fall. Now I know from the experiences of my older child that there is far far less supervision at school, particularly the lunch break, than there is in a preschool environment. I have been lucky thus far in his preschools that I have had some 'control' -- or at least a say -- in mentioning to every student's parent that this allergy is a serious one for my child. However, I am now realizing this will be nearly impossible when my son goes to kindergarten.

So -- what have parents of allergic/asthmatic children done to not worry so much when their child is in school? My son knows he has an allergy, knows what peanuts and peanut butter looks like, and we have/will write an information letter to parents. Short of being present for each and every lunch time, what can be done? He has an epi-pen for a serious emergency, but I am betting he can't carry it around with him. I fret that he won't be able to find help in time because there are so many other children around...and not enough adult supervisors.

If there is a support group for allergic children in our area, I would also like information on any such agency. Thanks, Caroline

At the public school where I teach peanut allergies are taken very seriously. The epi-pen is kept in the school office, and the secretary and teacher are trained to use it. All parents in my class, and other classes where this is an issue, are made aware of the allergy, and everyone is very conscientious about birthday treats, etc. There is a poster in the office of each child with a severe allergy, with a picture of the child, an explanation of the allergy, and information about precautions, indications of an allergic reaction, and appropriate measures to take (including a 911 call). I urge you to talk with the staff at your child's school to find out what their procudure is for dealing with this issue. Best of luck. Judy

I have a daughter with a mild peanut allergy, so it is not as scary but here are some things I suggest you do. 1)Meet with the principal and your child's teacher, and bring lots of information about peanut allergies, how serious they are, how children don't grow out of them, etc. 2) Definitely send the letter to the other parents in the class, ask that they not send treats with peanuts to school for birthdays, etc. 3) The Oakland schools have a form that allows you to send prescription medication to school with your child. Get your pediatrician to sign it and send an epi-pen to school -- the ''nurse'' (or whoever functions as one) will have to hold on to it, but as my daughter's allergist says, just sending the epi-pen emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. 4) On Halloween, Valentine's day and other ''party'' days, call the room parent and ask them to tell parents bringing cookies or treats to not bring things with peanuts in them. Better yet, sign up to be the room parent so you can give the message yourself. Still better, be at the party so you can check on what's there. 5) Give the teacher a stash of cookies to give your child in case peanut treats are given out, so your child is not left out and can get some kind of treat. 6) Find out if the teacher uses peanuts or peanut candy as part of a math game, science project or anything else. Offer to research and buy an alternative item. Public school teachers are so harried that offering to help find a solution to the problem will go a long way.

There is no denying you have to be vigilant, and so will your child. But it can be handled, and I think offering help and generally being involved and around can help a lot. And educate when you get the chance.

If you haven't already, check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, they have information on dealing with schools. Alice

The ingestion of a small amount of peanut product can cause me to go into severe anaphylactic shock. Back in elementary school ingesting a pinhead amount was a very serious event for me! Now, at the age of 44, I imagine if I ingested a 1/4 tsp. of peanut butter, I could leave this mortal coil quite rapidly if my Epi- Pen didn't work, and/or I was not able to get to the hospital in time. I opened my post with this information so that you know that I can relate to your concern 100%. I would have to say that if you don't feel confident that the teachers at your son's school would be attentive enough to your son's situation, then I would consider choosing another school. But if you haven't done so already, I would give them the chance to rise to the occasion by seeing how they react to you asking them to pay special attention to your son's situation. Perhaps having his meds located in the classroom as well as a second set in the nurse's office, and asking them to set aside some time to make his classmates aware of what a severe food allergy is. An intelligently run school will do this in a way that does not make your son appear to be the odd man out, so to speak. If you find that they do not seem to take you seriously, and they seem uncooperative in any way, then I would look for elsewhere for his education. The one good thing that your son has going for him, that I didn't, is that when I was a child, food allergies were not that well known. I am sure that my parents went through... when I was a child. Thankfully peanut allergy awareness is much more commonplace now. My son is four and we have not tested him yet, but so far he is not allergic to other legumes like I am. I am hoping that he didn't get the peanut gene that both my mother-in-law and I have. If you would like to discuss it further please email me. If you care to respond, I would be interested in knowing how you went about finding out that your son had a peanut allergy? Good luck to you and your son. marianne

I teach in a public school and have a child in my class with a peanut allergy. The principal and lunchroom staff as well as I have taken an active role to protect him from harm. Basically as far as lunch goes, we make sure to read the menu for the month and whenever peanut butter is on the menu for the day, he gets to eat in the office with a friend who delivers his lunch to him. (not PB!) We also have sent a letter to parents in his class requesting no treats containing peanuts for birthdays, etc. He basically doesn't eat any treats that are suspect. He is the kind of allergy where smelling peanut can cause a reaction. So far it has been ok! Just want you to know it is possible for public school staff to support you! Teacher