Building Your Back-to-School Team

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It’s that time of year again! Getting back into the swing of school after a fun summer can be difficult, especially when your child is gluten-free for health reasons. Much like setting up a healthcare-oriented support team that works to make living gluten-free easier, having a back-to-school support system can help alleviate stress and keep your child safely gluten-free while at school. 

Let’s look at who should be on your child’s back-to-school team. 

 

Parent/Guardian 

As a parent, you play the most critical role in your child’s adjustment to being gluten-free in every situation they face. You’ve worked hard to control your child’s exposure to gluten at home, when eating out, visiting friends, or in a social setting. The school environment presents many new situations where your child could be exposed to gluten. Not being on site to protect your child can be both scary and frustrating. 

One way to help ensure that your child’s school administrators and staff are aware of your child’s medical condition and required accommodations is to set up a 504 Plan. A 504 Plan can address all aspects of your child’s gluten-free needs at school, from having gluten-free snack options at class events, to avoidance of gluten-containing craft projects, to providing gluten-free school lunches and food on class trips.  

A child who requires a gluten-free diet — whether due to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity — may be eligible for a 504 Plan but being granted one is not guaranteed. Each child requesting a plan is considered on a case-by-case basis. Simply communicating with a child’s teachers, school nurse, and even with administrators and food service staff at the school can sometimes be sufficient. If not, a 504 Plan can be the next step.  

  • Some areas to think about when it comes to your child’s safety at school include: 
  • School-served meals 
  • Access to appliances for home-cooked meals (microwave, fridge) 
  • Field trips 
  • School parties 
  • School-sponsored events (like assemblies and pep rallies) 
  • Access to bathrooms throughout the day 
  • Arts and crafts supplies 
  • Other situations where food is present or served (such as family and consumer sciences (FCS) formerly known as Home Ec. or a culinary class) 

 

You are your child’s greatest advocate, but you can’t (and shouldn’t!) do it alone. 

See the GIG Parent Toolkit for more resources as well as our explanation of the 504 Plan. 

 

Teachers 

Your child’s teacher or teachers see them on a regular basis. They may also oversee 20 students or more per class, so any child with special requirements for safety and comfort could get lost in the shuffle.  

If you don’t have a 504 Plan for your child, make a point to provide their teacher(s) with background about their condition and a few important considerations such as: 

  • If your child has a celiac disease diagnosis or gluten sensitivity 
  • What reactions your child exhibits if “glutened” 
  • What actions should be taken by the teacher if your child exhibits those reactions 
  • When sending them to the school nurse is warranted 
  • Special bathroom access without restriction 

Your teacher could benefit from a list of situations where gluten could be an issue. This list would be a modification of the list you make for yourself (see the parent’s list above): 

  • Classroom parties 
  • Field trips
  • School-sponsored events (like assemblies and pep rallies)
  • Arts and crafts supplies
  • Other situations where food is present or served (such as family and consumer sciences (FCS) formerly known as Home Ec. or a culinary class) 

If there is a medical reason for your child to be gluten-free, get a letter from their doctor to include with any documentation you share with your child’s teachers. 

Refer your child’s teachers to the GIG Teacher’s Toolkit for relevant resources. Check the GIG Parent’s Toolkit that includes a customizable letter to give to your child’s teacher. 

 

School Nurses 

The school nurse at your child’s school can play an integral role in supporting your efforts to keep them safely gluten-free. If you don’t already have a 504 Plan in place, get in touch with them at the start of the school year to discuss your child’s specific needs. Prepare a one-page sheet outlining the things the school nurse should know about your child such as: 

  • If your child has a celiac disease diagnosis or gluten sensitivity 
  • What reactions your child exhibits if “glutened”
  • What actions should be taken by the school nurse if your child exhibits those reactions
  • What medications, if any, should your child be allowed to take to alleviate adverse reactions (Ex: an antacid or other digestive aid to ease stomach pains or a topical corticosteroid or prescription cream for an outbreak of Dermatitis Herpetiformis) 

If you want the school nurse to have medication on hand for your child, ask about proper procedures and paperwork needed for supplying and administering it.  

If you have a 504 Plan for your child, the school nurse should be automatically included in planning and present for all meetings. If not, ask the staff member that’s assigned to oversee your child’s 504 Plan to include them. If there is a medical reason for your child to be gluten-free, get a letter from your child’s doctor and include it with any documentation you share with the school nurse for your child’s file. 

Refer your child’s school nurse to the GIG School Nurse Toolkit for relevant resources. 

 

 

Your Child 

Without a doubt, your child is an essential part of the back-to-school support team. Talk with your child about being gluten-free and the challenges they have faced at school in the past or their worries about attending school this year.  

Bring up the topic of bullying or ridiculing around your child being gluten-free. If this has been an issue in the past, it is something that you’ll want to address with your child’s teacher and school administrator in the new school year. Put everything you want school personnel to know in writing to be placed in your child’s file. 

Ask your child what you can do to make their school days less stressful around gluten-free eating and potential exposure. You may not be able to do everything they ask, but by showing them that you care and are trying to alleviate their worries, they will feel more supported. 

 

Other Team Members 

  • Who else could be on your child’s back-to-school team? Here are a few suggestions: 
  • School administrator 
  • School guidance counselor 
  • Administrator of your child’s 504 Plan 
  • Teachers’ assistant (TA) 
  • Adults supervising or chaperoning extracurricular activities 
  • Parents of classmates 
  • Supportive classmates and friends 

Each time you bring someone onto your child’s back-to-school team, brief them with the appropriate information to help them understand what they can do to best support your child. In the case of peers, reach them through their parents.  

If your child struggles with advocating for themselves at school or is still too young to clearly communicate their gluten intolerance or celiac disease diagnosis, print out a card with a simple explanation that they can keep in their backpack and hand to their teacher or other trusted adult at school as a reminder. Here’s an example of what the card can say: 

“I cannot have anything with gluten. That means no wheat, barley, rye, and oats that are not certified gluten-free or anything that comes from those grains. Please help me watch out for things made with flour (cakes, cookies, pies, other baked goods, pasta, bread, even art supplies). I carry my own gluten-free snacks just in case. To learn more, visit gluten.org.” 

You could also point them to this article: 38 Foods Where Gluten May Be Hidden. 

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember: Not everyone understands what it means to live gluten-free. Anything you can do to teach others about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity is a great start! 

 
 
 

The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.  

© 2021 Gluten Intolerance Group. All Rights Reserved 

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