A law requiring consistent approaches to managing food allergies in public schools across Alberta would bring peace of mind to students and provide clarity for school staff, say national allergy advocates.
“I think it’s a smart thing to do. Unfortunately, in many areas of medicine, we tend to react after somebody dies,” said Dr. Harold Kim, president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, on Thursday. “ I think Alberta’s doing a smart thing. They’re acting before there’s a death.”
Rookie Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk has introduced a private member’s bill in the legislature that would legally require all publicly funded Alberta school boards to have an anaphylaxis policy. If passed, Bill 201 , the Protection of Students With Life-Threatening Allergies Act, would make Alberta the first province to require all publicly funded schools to have adrenalin autoinjectors (EpiPens) at the ready, should someone have an unexpected, life-threatening allergic reaction.
The act would require mandatory training for all school employees about how to recognize and react to a life-threatening reaction.
Principals would have to develop an individual plan for each student with an anaphylactic allergy, complete with a file including treatments, copies of prescriptions, instructions from health professionals and a current emergency contact list.
Inspired by her own and her children’s food allergies, Armstrong-Homeniuk said she bought extra EpiPens for her children’s school in case a child with an undiagnosed allergy had a reaction.
First legislation in Ontario
About 2.6 million Canadians, including a half-million children, have food allergies, according to Food Allergy Canada.
It was the 2003 death of 13-year-old Sabrina Shannon in an Ontario school that led to Canada’s first law governing how schools deal with allergies. Shannon was allergic to milk and ate french fries that had been cross-contaminated with cheese in her school’s cafeteria. By the time she got epinephrine from her locker, it was too late to save her.
Sabrina’s Law took effect in 2006, and requires Ontario school boards to have anaphylaxis policies and create individual plans for each student at risk.
That spurred other jurisdictions to look more closely. Manitoba also has similar legislation, and B.C. has a ministerial order requiring all schools to have anaphylaxis policies and procedures.
In 2010, the Alberta Liberals attempted to introduce legislation similar to Sabrina’s Law. The legislature of the day voted it down , with MLAs arguing that advice distributed to all Alberta schools went far enough to protect kids.
Food Allergy Canada believes legislation is the best route to protect school children, Beatrice Povolo, director of advocacy and media relations, said Thursday. It signals to school leaders they must take the issue seriously and prepare staff to respond quickly to an emergency when delays can be deadly, she said.
There has been no food allergy deaths reported in an Ontario school since Sabrina’s Law took effect, she said.
EpiPens should be unlocked, easy access
The organization has been advocating for schools to stock epinephrine — and some do, voluntarily. Povolo was happy to see it required in Armstrong-Homeniuk’s bill.
The organization has a 30-minute online training course Alberta school employees could use, she said.
Kim said all provinces should have a version of Sabrina’s Law to create more consistent expectations for school staff and families, as both move between schools and districts.
Kim, also chief of the division of allergy at the University of Western Ontario, said if schools are required to have EpiPens, they should be in an obvious location, unlocked — just like an automated external defibrillator.
Although many people are nervous about jabbing someone else with an autoinjector, the odds of serious side effects are low if used properly, Kim said.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association is generally supportive of Bill 201, spokesman Jonathan Teghtmeyer said last week. It would like to see allergy response plans be kept as part of one, central school emergency plan, rather than as individual records, he said.
School boards should bear legal responsibility for those plans rather than individual principals, he said.
A government committee okayed the bill on Tuesday, and it will head back to the legislature for debate.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019