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School district addressing food allergies through lens of inclusion, striving for cultural shift

The Lake Oswego School District has a food allergy policy based on Oregon law and the district's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The policy states that "a plan will be developed for a student with a known life-threatening allergy and will include protocols for preventing exposures to allergens."

It's not a new policy, but district nurse Ann Nelson said that moving forward with it, "we're being very mindful of inclusion."

Numbers presented at the school district Coordinating Council meeting, Friday, Nov. 8 show that at the elementary level, 175 students have a food allergy of some kind. That number is 255 at the secondary level. The total number of students in the district who have a food allergy as of November 2019 is 430.

Another 95 students have a food sensitivity or intolerance to dairy, gluten or some other food item.

That means over 500 students in the district are susceptible to being left out, or put in danger during food-related activities and events.

The inclusion-mindset of addressing allergies means that administrators have to think about how food affects all students in any context, be that the snacks in emergency preparedness kits, the beans used in middle school science kits or the contents of a celebratory classroom snack.

LOSD Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson said that, district-wide, they are striving for a cultural shift away from food items as a means of celebration in the classroom. If a student has a birthday, there are other ways to make them feel recognized. They can be "teacher for the day," wear a special crown or, as Nelson has witnessed, take photos in a special photo booth frame made and signed by the whole class.

If an event is going to have food, there are some general guidelines that should be followed according to the policy. When selecting a food item, teachers and parents are told to avoid all foods with nuts or seeds, including nut oils, as well as food from local bakeries or small scale operations as it can be hard to obtain accurate food labels for them.

The policy stresses sticking with food items that are store bought with food labels. Fresh fruit and vegetables have to be store bought but don't have to have a food label.

And lastly, parents are to be notified of the food items with full name and brand of the product within a minimum of three days in advance of an event.

"We want to make sure that if there is something that is brought it that it can reach all students," Nelson said.

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