Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Food-Free Classrooms

By Rebecca Bird, Pointe Claire, Quebec

Both my son, Cameron Geller, and his best school buddy, Kristian Johnson-Galvez, have been attending St.John Fisher Elementary School in Pointe Claire, Quebec since kindergarten in September 2001. Both boys have multiple, severe food allergies. Cameron is allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts and eggs. Kristian is allergic to eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

The boys have always been together in school. None of the foods they are allergic to are forbidden in the school but their classrooms are food-free, meaning that no food is EVER eaten in the classroom. Normally the school uses classrooms as lunchrooms since so many of the students eat lunch at school, but another room is always found for the children in Cam and Kristian's to eat lunch. Also, no treats (including birthday cupcakes) are ever brought into the class.

In addition to being food-free, EVERYONE who ever enters the class MUST wash their hands each and every time they enter the class. That means at least four times per day for each student (upon entering in the morning, after morning recess, after lunch, after the afternoon recess). In kindergarten it was found that all this hand washing was quite time consuming, so boxes of baby wipes are now used (kept by the classroom door) for all hand washing.

As the boys grew older, they began to be taught in two classrooms, one for English, the other for French. The boys are still together, but since two classrooms are used for the boys, both have had to become "safe zones" for the boys. When the boys are not in one of the classes, their desks are covered by large plastic sheets to keep them clean. Also both rooms are food-free, so two extra lunchrooms had to be found (this may have been the most difficult hurdle for the principal, although I know that the teachers LOVE having food-free classes since they are so much cleaner), and two groups of children wash their hands four times daily (56 students x 4 wipes = 224 wipes used per day). The cost of the wipes has been offset somewhat by Home and School as well as Cameron's designation by the provincial government as a "handicapped child" due to his severe allergies, which allows extra funding.

St. John Fisher's approach to keeping Cameron and Kristian safe has really paid off! Neither boy has ever had even a mild allergic reaction at school. In addition, their classrooms tend to be the "healthiest" classes since all that hand-washing has meant that fewer colds and flu's are passed through the class. This has even meant that some parents who were initially worried about having their children in the same class as the "allergic boys," now want their children to be in the clean and healthy classrooms.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 3 2005

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