CEDAR FALLS --- Cedar Falls schools leaders took the first steps Tuesday to address consistently the issue of the growing number of students with severe food allergies.
Currently individual schools are writing their own guidelines based on their student population's needs. Now, Pam Zeigler, the district's director of elementary education, is asking a new committee of staff, administrators, a doctor and parents to draw up district-wide guidelines.
"We need to have some procedures, some protocols on what we are going to do. Right now we don't have a written plan," said Shannon Ingamells, the district's school nurse program manager.
Several parents on the committee said a district-wide policy hasn't yet been developed because individual schools are doing such a good job handling the situation.
Kristin Moser, whose first-grade son has a milk allergy, has worked closely with her son's school principal, nurse and teachers to ensure he is safe in his classroom, the lunchroom, on the playground and on field trips.
"It's good to know that there will be this list of best practices of what we have already done to pave the way for the next student," Moser said.
Dr. Kimberly Neumann, a Waterloo pediatrician, cautioned the group against developing a plan that would require schools to go peanut-free.
"That can make you feel safe to the point where people aren't checking anymore," she said. "And if you are peanut-free, are you also going to be milk-free, shellfish-free and egg-free? We need to be practical and keep children safe without ostracizing them to one part of the school."
The district has two "allergy-sensitive" buildings, Lincoln and Orchard Hill elementary schools. Zeigler said many districts are moving away from the peanut-free language because it is impossible to monitor every food item that comes into a building.
Janelle Smeins, a mother of two without allergies, said after hearing the stories of the women sitting at her table she better understands the need for such policies.
"It is of the utmost importance to keep these children safe," she said. "I know that if it were my child that had the life-threatening allergy I would want to know they would be safe at school, too."
The committee also broke into small groups and spent about 30 minutes discussing other schools' policies and what responsibilities each stakeholder should take in this district's policy. Zeigler said that conversation will continue when the committee meets at 5:30 p.m Tuesday.