Sudbury mothers concerned about children with severe food allergies

Sending your child off to school can be overwhelming for any parent— but for those who have children with severe food allergies, it can be downright scary.

Even a bus ride to school or holding hands with classmates can be life-threatening

Dana McGill and Shawna Cole both have children with severe food allergies. The two say washing your child's hands and mouth before they get on the school bus can keep their children safe. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Sending your child off to school can be overwhelming for any parent— but when your child has severe food allergies, it can be downright scary.

Dana McGill's daughter Fiona starts kindergarten this year.  Fiona is allergic to dairy, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs.

Fiona's allergies are so severe, McGill said she's decided to keep her child off the school bus.

"Dairy and eggs are two very prominent breakfast options. All kids are consuming these things and then getting on the bus," she said. 

"I don't know if they've splashed anything on their clothes, [or] didn't brush their teeth after," she said.

"I [can't] check on her if there's a concern about her reactions."

More schools becoming 'nut controlled'

Newsletters are often sent home to remind parents and students to be mindful when they pack food, according to Kathy Wachnuk, superintendent of schools for the Rainbow District School Board.

"All of our schools are nut controlled, which means we do everything possible to limit students bringing nuts and nut substitutes into our schools," she said.

Shawna Cole's daughter Avery doesn't start school until next year. But Cole has already been in touch with educators about her daughter's allergies.

Three-year-old Avery has more than a dozen confirmed food allergies, including chicken, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, wheat, and eggs. Those foods can cause reactions ranging from itchiness and anaphylaxis.

Cole said daycares and schools understand the importance of keeping her daughter safe.

"They always make sure that everybody's washing their hands and they have designated areas for them to eat. And they also have wipes because those can kill the proteins on their hands."

Awkward conversations with other parents

Cole said she has had to have awkward conversations with other parents. 

"I am afraid of what other parent's feel," she said. "If they want to send peanut butter, they're going to do it. It's hard to take that as a parent," she said.

While not every child suffers from allergies, Cole said she hopes other parents will understand and take precautions.

Even small changes can make a big difference for her daughter's safety.

"If [a child] just finished eating a piece of cheese ... and grabs my daughter's hand, that's going to give my daughter a reaction right there," she said.

"All it is is washing your children's hands before they go to school, wiping their mouths, and making sure they don't have any peanuts or yogurt on them."

Parents sending their kids to school for the first time always experience a little anxiety... but if your child has allergies, there's even more concern. That's the case for Shawna Cole. She wants other parents to be mindful of kids with allergies. 8:22

with files from Samantha Lui. Packaged by Marina von Stackelberg