Who will take care of our children?
This is the question that many parents of kids with food allergies have asked lately.
In Israel, children with life threatening allergies can be assigned an aide when they enter the public system (from age 3). The aide’s responsibility is to keep the child safe and of course give treatment if necessary. The program started nineyears ago when the number of allergic kids was rising and the school system was having a hard time handling the responsibility. The result has been twofold, as, on the one hand children are safer with someone directly watching them, but, on the other hand, many teachers and other staff members have backed down from taking responsibility (don’t forget that classes often have over 30 kids starting from age 3).
The Ministry of Education has announced its intention to cancel the aides starting next school year. Today, children are given aides until second grade. Do they stop being allergic in third grade? No. Can children in fifth grade use their Epi-pens when needed? Probably not. The aides are not an ideal situation and definitely don’t provide all allergic children with a solution. So okay, cancel the aides. But before you do so, offer an acceptable alternative. Build a new plan and after it undergoes a pilot, cancel. Not like this, out of nowhere.
The school system has to learn to deal with food allergies. The teachers (in schools and pre-schools run by the government) need to take responsibility. They need to undergo training in which they learn to deal with an allergic child in their class, how to recognize a reaction and how to give life-saving first aide when necessary. The awareness needs to improve. Yes, I know that it can be inconvenient when you can’t send your kid with Bamba to school or with a cheese sandwich, but we can overcome these issues. Get rid of the allergens in schools. It’s a matter of life and death.
I only wish the situation were better and we could get rid of the aides. But we’re not there. Canceling the aides today is a disaster waiting to happen.
Some people say I’m disconnected from reality. That I’m American and don’t understand the Israeli culture, that “teaching” the Israeli society how to deal with allergies is impossible. But you know what? I know that it can happen. How? Because this year we were blessed with an amazing teacher that took care of my son as if he were her own. She banned all peanuts and tree nuts from entering the gan (pre-school) and stood her ground about the rules no matter the situation. Despite the constant supervision, she never, ever, made my son feel like he was different from the other kids. And I can’t forget the amazing parents. They know the dangers and have been understanding and sensitive to the situation throughout the year. Some of them have even called me before their birthday parties to ask me what they could serve. Yep, they called me! Thanks to the amazing staff (including his aide) and the other parents, my husband and I felt comfortable sending Nadav to gan.
It’s not like this everywhere, I know. Not all of the teachers take responsibility for the situation and not all of the parents are prepared to take part in the task of making the class an allergy safe zone. I’ve heard many horror stories of teachers making the allergic kid sit on the side or parents sending food with allergens on purpose to pre-school. Personally, it’s hard for me to believe these stories but unfortunately they are quite common. Next year my son will have a new teacher and I’m nervous. What will happen? What if she doesn’t take his allergies seriously? Will she protect Nadav? The fact that he has an aide calms me down because I don’t trust the system, yet.
Being a parent to an allergic child isn’t easy and even though I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by those who take the situation seriously, it’s still very hard. It’s not acceptable that the Ministry of Education will make our lives even more complicated. We deserve to send our children to their schools and pre-schools without them being at risk!
Ministry of Education, now is not the time to cancel the aides. It’s just a matter of time until the next disaster happens. Who will take care of our children? Who will make sure that everything is okay? We are still very far from knowing, as a society, how to deal with children with food allergies. Now is not the time for experiments.