Parents take emergency EpiPen cabinet idea to Winnipeg school board

The chair of the Winnipeg School Division says she's in favour of an idea brought forward by a group of parents who say EpiPens should be made available to all students at schools in the division to stop anaphylactic shock in the case of unexpected allergic reactions.

Winnipeg School Division board chair in favour of plan to keep allergy medication in cabinet

A group of concerned parents are proposing the Winnipeg School Division install emergency EpiPen cabinets in some schools as a pilot project. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The Winnipeg School Division chair says she's in favour of making EpiPens available to all students at schools in the division to stop anaphylactic shock in case of an unexpected allergic reaction.

A group of parents will present a proposal to have EpiPen cabinets in schools at a special school board meeting on Monday.

"When I drop my kids off at school I'm dropping them off with an EpiPen strapped to their waist, and they know to keep it with them all the time, but … it feels a little insecure to me," said Lauren Phillips, whose nine-year-old daughter goes to École Laura Secord School and has allergies to cashews, pistachios and mango.

"The suggestion to have EpiPen cabinets, like the [AED] defibrillators that you see everywhere now, just makes good sense to me."

An EpiPen cabinet holds an emergency EpiPen and sounds an alarm when it is opened. EpiPens are disposable needles used to administer epinephrine (adrenaline) to someone suffering an anaphylactic allergic reaction.

Phillips will be with two other parents and an allergist at the meeting on Monday.

"We're campaigning for the Winnipeg School Division to have a policy and a secure and reliable way to respond to children in the event of an anaphylactic reaction," she said. "There's so many kids with life-threatening allergies now, it feels like we need a systemic response."

The group eventually wants cabinets with EpiPens installed in all Winnipeg School Division schools but is suggesting the division start with a pilot program at a few schools first to make sure it's is effective, Phillips said.

Following protocol

The idea was first raised by Orla Nazarko, whose six-year-old daughter has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts.

Nazarko told CBC News in September the WSD refused to allow an EpiPen cabinet in her school as a backup in case her daughter forgets her medication. Nazarko, who will also be at Monday's meeting, said she would feel safer if an EpiPen cabinet with an alarm were installed at her daughter's school, as they are in dozens of Atlantic Canada schools. 
Orla Nazarko wants her daughter's school to install an EpiPen cabinet. (Danelle Cloutier/CBC)

But at the time, the division said it has plans in place for kids with EpiPens that follow Manitoba government protocol for administering medication to students.

"Only medication prescribed by a licensed practitioner will be administered by school personnel" under Manitoba government protocol, the school board said in a statement.

Schools work with parents or guardians to develop health-care plans for children with EpiPens, the statement went on to say. If a student isn't mature enough to carry an EpiPen, an EpiPen for that student is kept in a safe, adult-accessible location in the school.

Despite that, school board chair Sherri Rollins said the parents' plan is one she can get behind.

All schools in the division currently have locked cabinets located in central locations where medications like EpiPens and asthma inhalers are kept for students, Rollins said.

She said she keeps an auxiliary EpiPen in her house, and would be supportive of using the cabinets to store auxiliary EpiPens both for students with known allergies and for those who haven't previously been diagnosed.

"It's scary as a parent to think that you don't necessarily know that your child has a certain allergy until the bee stings or there is some sort of peanut allergy, for instance," she said. "Sometimes the best ideas do come from community and … any move to safeguard children is a good move."