Shelburne school takes new approach to food allergies - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Shelburne school takes new approach to food allergies

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Middle school students at the Shelburne Community School are headed to the cafeteria for lunch. Among them, seventh-grader Courtney Vincent. Like any other kid her age, she likes to hang and talk with friends and play basketball and soccer. But unlike many of her peers, she has a potentially fatal peanut allergy that keeps her on guard throughout the day.

"I'm always worried somebody will be eating it and touch me and then I'll have a reaction or something," said Courtney,

Courtney's not alone. Like her, 30 students have life-threatening allergies from tree nuts to dairy to shellfish. Like many schools in the past, Courtney might have been assigned to a nut-free classroom or cafeteria table. But last year Chittenden South overhauled their allergy protocols to take a broader perspective.

"We can't put a kid with a peanut allergy at a higher priority than a kid with a dairy allergy. And there's also kids with bee and wasp allergies that are life-threatening and we can't be a bee-free school. It would be really hard to be a dairy-free school. It's pretty hard to be a nut-free school," said Jocelyn Bouyea, SCS school nurse.

Bouyea helped come up with the policy which she says is much more realistic.

"We felt like, rather than to say we are a nut-free school and think that 1,000 people who are entering this building every day are nut free, we felt like it was a false sense of security and maybe even dangerous. We said let's look at the individual and try to figure out a way to help that child live in a world with allergens and do it safely," said Bouyea.

The new policy promotes "allergy awareness" in classrooms, wiping down tables after any food. More hand-washing, no sharing food and fewer cupcakes shared from home. In the cafeteria, the new policy means Courtney eats at an allergy aware table where any student, including best friend Grace, can sit with or without an allergy.

"You might have the child with an almond allergy sitting with a student who has the dairy allergy," said Bouyea.

Courtney's father, Jason, says raising a child with a life-threatening allergy has its frightening moments.

"It's absolutely scary. We think about it every day," Jason Vincent said.

In the past, he's been aware of complaints about schoolwide dietary restrictions to accommodate the handful of allergic students. He says it's important to point out what's at stake.

"I think once they truly understand that if she had something that had peanut in it, there's a high likelihood she would die they become more empathetic to the situation," said Jason.

Statewide officials say there is no over-arching policy for how schools handle allergies.

"I think it's whatever the school comes up with and what's going to work best for them. I think it also depends on how serious the allergy or the sensitivity is," said Laurie Colgan of the Vt. Agency of Education.

Colgan says while the stricter polices will likely remain for the youngest grades, she expects more schools to adopt Chittenden South's self-empowering approach.

Courtney and her folks say she has taken ownership of what she has to do to stay safe, whether in the classroom or going out to eat.

"You always have to be aware of what people are eating around you and if your friends are eating it, you have to make sure they wash their hands and they don't touch you," said Courtney.

It's a new approach to handling life-threatening allergies at school.

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