The world of school lunches changed dramatically with new federal regulations that took effect last year.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, which include minimum and maximum calorie levels, aren’t the only changes in the Platteville School District this year.
In an effort to deal with food allergies among students, Platteville’s two elementary schools are separating students who eat the school district’s lunch from students who bring lunch from home.
The reason, according to school superintendent Connie Valenza, is “a real significant increase on the part of our students in allergies that not only create distress, but are life-threatening.”
How life-threatening? School Nurse Mary Kay Logemann said the school district has 17 EpiPens, epinephrine auto-injectors, for students with allergies.
“We’re expecting school teachers and staff to administer that medicine” within five minutes, she said. Some students have an emergency treatment regimen of an EpiPen, albuterol, Benadryl and a second Epi-Pen after five minutes.
“I’ve had some pretty wide-eyed teachers looking at me, and it’s scary, and we want to take care of these precious children,” said Logemann.
The most life-threatening allergy is peanuts, but that is not the only food-related issue. Some students have gluten intolerance. Five Platteville Middle School students have diabetes.
“Minor mistakes could lead to death for some of our students, with regard to peanut allergies,” said Valenza.
The most strict measures are at Neal Wilkins Early Learning Center and Westview Elementary School because elementary students’ “ability to self-manage their health concerns is significantly different from a ninth-grader,” said Valenza.
The school district decided to allow grade-school students to bring lunch, but separate those students from school-lunch students “that we do have complete control over, to try to prevent some sort of horrible accident,” she said. “The tradeoff has been we don’t really want to be in the position of looking through kids’ lunches every day.”
The school district also has a new Pack a Snack program in which parents who want their kids to have snacks during the school day must provide them. The school district still provides milk.
The school district is also in the process of phasing out food as part of classroom celebrations for similar reasons, Valenza said.
Valenza compared the food safety moves to school safety initiatives, such as automatically locking school doors and requiring all visitors to come to one entrance.
“We made that decision to protect our students’ safety,” she said. “None of us want to have a situation where we lose a child because we could have taken a measure that we didn’t take.”