WCSD Manages Students With Food Allergies

By: Denise Wong Email
By: Denise Wong Email

Reno, NV - So many kids have been diagnosed with severe food allergies in our area, that the Washoe County School District has come out with a 24-page policy that outlines what should be done in case a child suffers an allergic reaction. So what is behind the rise in food allergies - and what is the district doing to make sure our kids are safe? KOLO 8 News Now takes a closer look.

Twelve-year-old Isabela Reyes-Klein has to deal with a lot more than most kids her age. As a straight A student at Hunsberger Elementary School and founder of the Debate Club, it's hard to hold her back. But there is one thing that does...

"I am desperately allergic to peanuts," explains Isabela. She says if she ingests any, "If I don't get to the hospital in a few minutes, I'll die."

Isabela's family found this out when she was just five years old. They were visiting family in Mexico when her mother says her daughter ingested some peanuts. It triggered a nightmare reaction.

"Just sheer panic," says Lauren Klein. "It's hard to for anyone to understand if you've never lived with it and seen your kid struggle and gasp for air."

"Sometimes, it gets really annoying, but you learn to live with it," says Isabell.

Seven years later, Isabela is one of more than 500 students in the Washoe County School District diagnosed with food anaphylaxis, which is more commonly known as food allergies.

"It's a growing problem and it needed to be dealt with," says Dana Balchunas, director of Student Health Services at the Washoe County School District.

The most common allergy they see is with nuts.

"Especially tree nuts and peanuts," says Balchunas.

Over the past year, the District has worked with parents, physicians, and school administrators to come up with a comprehensive plan for all schools - detailing what to do if a child suffers an allergic reaction. Why did the School District think this was needed?

"Because there was confusion," says Balchunas. "Everybody wanted to do the right thing in terms of protecting the kids and providing those accomodations those children need - but no one was really clear whose responsibility different aspects were."

WCSD's 24-page policy now outlines the role of everyone who may have contact with a child with food anaphphylaxis, from school nurses to cafeteria workers to even parent volunteers.

It also stresses education and training staff on how to recognize an allergic reaction.

"If you haven't seen a serious allergic reaction, you have no idea! First of all, how rapid it can happen. It could be just like that! Seconds!" says Dr. Nevin Wilson. He is a practicing allergist and immunologist as well as the Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Wilson has gone over the plan and he regularly talks with school nurses about how to handle an anaphylaxis. The most important tool, he says in an epi-pen. And these days, it's needed more than ever.

"All allergic diseases are much more common today than they were 30 years ago," says Dr. Wilson.

But why? Why are more of our kids suffering from food allergies?

"Because we are too clean," says Dr. Wilson. "Particularly with our infants at a very young age, that's what leads to allergy."

Dr. Wilson explains that our bodies are looking for things to fight off. He explains that the immune system, in the absence of heavy exposure to bacteria, shifts to looking for parasites, but....

"The problem is, there are no parasites around, so instead, it creates allergies," says Dr. Wilson.

And that creates more problems for our kids and schools, if there is no plan in place. But now there is.

"More and more parents are expecting the school to react and to be aware and be proactive in keeping their child safe on a number of levels. And so they're not afraid to come to us and say my child has this diagnosis and I would like the school to cooperate in keeping my child safe. That's what we're trying to do," says Balchunas.

As Isabele Reyes-Klein will tell you, awareness is the first and most important step to preventing a major problem. Now, when she goes to school, her family can be more confident that she's in a safer environment.

"I think it's really great that Washoe County is doing this," says Isabela. "It will help a bunch of people."

The policy also ensures that school administrators designate Allergy-Aware areas on campus, including inside the classroom or cafeteria for students with food allergies. If you would like to read the policy for yourself, you can head here:


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