HomeFood Allergy Canada commentary: “The Law of Food Allergy and Accommodation in Canadian Schools”

Food Allergy Canada commentary: “The Law of Food Allergy and Accommodation in Canadian Schools”

October 25, 2018

Tim Caulfield [Photo courtesy of Twitter @CaufieldTim]

A study by AllerGen investigator Timothy Caulfield titled “The Law of Food Allergy and Accommodation in Canadian Schools”, was recently published in Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

According to the authors, the goal of the study is to identify and explain how relevant Canadian common law, legislation, constitutional law, and human rights policy can inform future school policy around allergy, disability, and food bans. The study concluded that anaphylaxis constitutes a disability that must be accommodated in Canadian schools; however, food bans are generally not legally necessary. Given the findings of the study and the questions it raises on how food allergies can be safely managed in schools, Food Allergy Canada is providing our perspective and some additional context for the community.

Avoidance is key to staying safe

Food allergy is a growing public health issue and a serious medical concern for over 2.6 million Canadians, of which over 485,000 are children. For students with food allergies, avoiding what they are allergic to is the key strategy to staying safe. As such, parents will be looking to schools to see what can be done to help safeguard their children, based on the concept of avoidance. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that all students with food allergy need to be well supported in their school environment and have effective measures in place to help reduce the risk of reactions. This requires a team effort and the overall support of the school community. By working together with parents, students and staff, effective policies can be developed that can help create safer environments for those students at risk.

A comprehensive approach to managing food allergy in schools is required

The study affirms that Canadians with food allergies, especially children, have a right to be free from discrimination based on their allergy, which is an important recognition for our community. It also reinforces our view that a comprehensive approach to supporting children with food allergies in schools – such as with Sabrina’s Law in Ontario – is appropriate and required. It’s important for schools to look at various risk reduction strategies that should be considered when determining the best policies for managing food allergies in school environments. Given that current school legislation or policies do not call for mandatory food restrictions (referenced as bans in the study), looking at reasonable accommodations based on the concept of shared responsibility (meaning age-appropriate individual vigilance along with community awareness and support), is critical to creating safer environments for children.

Across the country, many families, schools, and communities are finding reasonable accommodations to safely manage food allergies within the school environment. Food restrictions are just one potential measure, within an overall risk management strategy, and as the study notes, this may be the appropriate tool in some contexts such as with young children.

School policy considerations – Not a “one-size-fits-all approach”

It’s important to understand that there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and that there may be different strategies implemented for different school settings. Schools should consider various factors when developing their food allergy management policies including: the age of at-risk students; number of at-risk students; eating locations; availability of adult supervision; and level of understanding and training of school staff. For more information on what elements should be included in a school policy, visit our Resources for Educators page. Accommodations that are reasonable and have broad consensus in the community are the most likely to be successful over the long term.

We continue to advocate for greater research on determining which risk reduction measures are most effective for schools and how to effectively implement these measures. In the interim, we encourage families and schools to work toward developing reasonable accommodations that help create safer environments for all students.

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