At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed House Bill 1107 (Greason) and Senate Bill 656 (McEachin), which require local school boards to adopt and implement policies for the possession and administration of epinephrine in Virginia’s public schools. 

The governor was joined by Laura Pendleton and her nieces, Michelle Foster (an 8th grader at Binford Middle School) and Sharice Green, who advocated for the legislation.  Laura’s daughter, Amarria Johnson, tragically died as a result of an allergic reaction to peanuts in a Virginia school.

The legislation was supported by the Food Allergy Network, pediatricians and healthcare and education leaders.

 In a press release, McDonnell said, “Virginia must do everything it can to ensure the safety of our young people while they are in school.  This legislation and the money in the recently passed budget will help prevent another tragedy like Amarria Johnson’s from occurring in a public school in the Commonwealth. Having a plan in place and access to epinephrine in schools, where children spend half their day, is critical. I want to thank Amarria’s mother, Laura Pendleton for her strong advocacy for this measure as well as the bi-partisan efforts of Senator McEachin and Delegate Greason and others to guide it through the legislative process.”

  The biennial budget passed last week includes $200,000 to support the purchase of epinephrine injectors for public schools in Virginia during the 2012-2013 school year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported an 18% increase in food allergy among school-aged children from 1997 to 2007. According to a clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 16% to 18% of children with a food allergy have experienced a reaction in school and approximately 25% of allergic reactions or treatments for anaphylaxis occur in children whose allergy was previously undiagnosed.

 State-level guidelines will be developed by July 1, 2012 and school boards will adopt and implement the new policy at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. 

The Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics passes along these tips:

5 Tips for Parents to Keep Children with Food Allergies Safe at School

  Develop a Food Allergy Action Plan.

With the help of your child’s doctor, develop a food allergy action plan for school personnel with specific instructions on how to identify possible symptoms of your child’s allergic reaction and what to do in the event of a potentially life-threatening emergency. Give copies of the plan to your child’s teachers, nurse, and coaches, and ask that the plan be kept in an easily accessible location.

Teach Your Child Avoidance Strategies.

Help your child to avoid potentially dangerous situations at school by instructing them not to share or trade food and to avoid eating foods with unknown ingredients like home-baked goods. Teach your child how to recognize the symptoms of a reaction and tell an adult immediately. If your child is old enough, help him or her learn how to read food labels carefully to identify potential food allergens.

Make Sure Your Child Has Access To Epinephrine At All Times.

Ensure that injectable epinephrine is available at all points of the school day, including transportation to and from school, on field trips, and at any after-school activities. For younger children who may not carry their own epinephrine, make sure they know where the medication is located and which school personnel can access it in case of an emergency

  Meet with Your Child’s Teachers and Other School Personnel.

Schedule an in-person meeting with your child’s teachers, school nurse, and principal before the school year begins. Ensure the staff know of your child’s specific food allergy, how to recognize a reaction and what to do in the event of an emergency. Discuss what food allergy management policies the school already has in place, and determine whether additional strategies can be implemented to help avoid exposure to food allergens.

   Keep a Supply of Safe Snacks with Your Child’s Teacher.

If your child’s classroom allows snacks, ask that you be given advanced notice of scheduled activities involving food, such as birthday parties and holidays, so you can monitor potential exposure to food allergens. Also, consider providing “safe” snack lists for other parents. For unplanned events, it’s a good idea to leave a safe supply of snacks with your child’s teacher to substitute for any foods that you haven’t approved.

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