Madison schools seeing record high number of students with food allergies

Madison schools seeing record high number of students with food allergies

Officials from the Madison Metropolitan School District said Friday that staff members are seeing record numbers of students with serious food allergies.

According to the district, more than 680 students had life-threatening food allergies last year. That’s nearly double the number from 2008, which hovered around 300.

“I think there’s more children being identified with food allergies,” Sally Zirbel-Donisch, MMSD’s health services coordinator, said. “I don’t think anybody really has an answer as to why we’re seeing more children with these significant food allergies.”

Zirbel-Donisch said the types of allergies run the gamut from peanuts to celiac disease.

“The most common allergy is a peanut and nut allergy,” she said. “And then there’s milk, there’s seafood, there’s wheat.”

Zirbel-Donisch said with more and more allergic students comes more and more training and awareness for school staffs, as a teacher is likely to have at least one student with a food allergy in his or her class.

“We used to be able to do it more one on one with teachers,” Zirbel-Donisch said. “Now we’re really kind of working with the principals (to see) if we can do more of a professional development, even 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning of the year with the staff.”

Additionally, Zirbel-Donisch said classmates of a student with peanut allergies are educated about their peer’s condition. She said it not only teaches students to be aware of what food they’re bringing to class, but also prevents bullying.

“Sometimes, when there’s a special situation or student, those kids are targeted,” Zirbel-Donisch said.

Zirbel-Donisch said any student with a documented food allergy will meet with teachers and nurses to determine an individual plan for dealing with their allergy in a school environment. She said any parent who has a child with a serious food allergy should reach out to the school staff.

“(Parents) really need to connect with the school nurse and principal and teacher around that, and inform them,” Zirbel-Donisch said.

In addition to Madison schools, officials from the Middleton and Verona school districts said they’ve noticed a large increase in students with serious food allergies over the past few years.

Verona Area School District spokesperson Kelly Kloepping said most of the school nurses she’s spoken with have told her there is a “crucial” need for more EpiPens and other supplies to deal with the additional numbers of students with allergies.