"We have no right to handicap the allergic child by placing him in an unhealthy environment." Merle S. Scherr, M.D., Allergy Information Kit for School Personnel, Scottsdale, AZ Also see: The Allergy Report, www.aaaai.org
COMPANION DOGS Both Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require schools
to serve students who have a companion dog or service animal and students with
allergies. Before class placements, schedules and other decisions are
made, schools must consider all students' needs. A collaborative approach
to problem solving can expand the school's options and help avoid potential
"Dear Ellie, Thanks for sending the article, What To Do if Animals in School Make Your Child Sick. It was very informative and helpful to my situation. Since I talked with you on the phone, the school has agreed to take all of the animals out and move all animal show-n-tells outside. I was really surprised about the turn around. I think being informed was a big plus for my presentation. Thanks for your support and insight. Sincerely, RC"
WHAT TO DO WHEN ANIMALS IN SCHOOL MAKE YOUR CHILD SICK
c. 1993 Ellie
Goldberg, M.Ed., www.healthy-kids.info A version
of this article appeared in The MA Report, (AAN/MA) August, 1993. Author's
permission required to reprint.
Anyone who has ever given away a pet knows the emotional pain and the delicate family politics involved. Imagine a parent's dilemma when the animal in question is the school mascot or the hamsters in the classroom science corner.
In spite of sleepless nights and mounting doctor bills, parents are sometimes reluctant to risk alienating the child's teacher and classmates by asking her to give away a classroom pet.
Other parents say their children's symptoms go unnoticed and their pleas for cooperation are dismissed. If this sounds familiar, the following advice is for you.
KNOW THE FACTS
All warm-blooded animals can cause allergic reactions, including rodents and birds. Animal allergen is in the dander, saliva, and urine. When dry, airborne allergen particles accumulate in carpets, upholstery, and fabrics, and on books, desks and walls.
Allergen particles land in the eyes and are inhaled into the nose and lungs. On the skin they can cause itchy rashes, eczema and hives. They can cause a range of allergies and illnesses such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, conjunctivitis, and chronic sinus and ear infections.
Damp or wet surfaces are a breeding ground for molds, mildews, bacteria and insects especially if cages or other animal areas are not cleaned properly. Sensitive airways can also be affected by the odors from urine, cedar chips, room deodorizers and disinfectant sprays, and the flea powders or insecticides used to control fleas and ticks.
"Carpets in the room become a trap for animal dander and are a potential reservoir for biological contaminants," says Martin A. Cohen, ScD, CIH., Senior Scientist for Environmental Health and Engineering, a company that specializes in indoor air quality. Animal biology labs with independent room ventilation units that exhaust the air to the outside are less likely to cause problems. Cohen knows one school system that houses its animals in a separate building. Some schools allow only turtles, hermit crabs, fish, lizards or snakes. Others limit animal visits and pet parades to outdoor areas.
Once a furry animal is introduced into a school, removing it does not immediately stop allergy problems. A central ventilating system can contaminate the entire school. Even after thorough cleaning, the allergens persist for months. Vacuuming just stirs up the particles. Steam cleaning and vacuuming with a HEPA filter (high efficiency particle accumulator) may reduce but not totally eliminate the allergens.
KNOW YOUR SCHOOL
Read the school manual. Knowing the district's official position on animals can help you identify your goal. Find out who is responsible for decisions that affect your child.
Start with a letter to the principal. Explain that furry animals undermine your child's health and ability to attend school. If your school principal isn't helpful, go higher.
You can ask the pupil services or special education director how to get consideration for your child's allergies or to influence practices that you feel disadvantage your child.
Is your school ignoring district policy?
Contact the superintendent about implementing policies. Is there no policy? Does the policy need updating? (Some old school policies only provide for advance notice of animal visits so that allergic students can stay home.) Contact the town's board of education about changing old policies that discriminate against students with allergies or developing new health-protective and wellness policies.
ADVOCACY TIP: BE PRO-HEALTH, NOT ANTI-ANIMAL
The experts agree, "Environmental control to reduce exposure to indoor allergens is a critical component of asthma management... Avoiding allergen exposure reduces symptoms, the need for medication, and the level of airway hyper-responsiveness." (National Heart Lung Blood Institute, National Asthma Education Program Expert Panel Report: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma.)
In other words, exposure to an animal can make allergic people sick. Avoiding animals helps them get better.
Your physician's letter for the school records should be more than a list of allergies and medications. The letter should read: "Eliminating allergens and irritants at school is a necessary part of Mary's asthma and allergy control plan."
WORK WITH YOUR SCHOOL NURSE
Her professional license and practice standards make her your best ally and advocate. Her role is to document student health needs and plan necessary services and adaptations. Your physician's letter is her guide to eliminating your child's allergic and asthma triggers at school.
Where there is no school nurse, contact the health officer at your local board of health who investigates environmental health problems and enforces standards.
Keep track of peak flow trends at home and at school. Good records teach school staff about a child's airway changes and can demonstrate the effect of allergens and irritants in the classroom. If you have an individualized health plan (IHP), be sure it includes peak flow and symptom logs.
Provide resources that help the school nurse educate the school community about allergies and to advocate for health and environmental standards that benefit everyone. Many teachers and parents may not be aware that coughing, wheezing, sneezing, shortness of breath, rashes, hives, red, watery eyes, a runny nose, or unusual irritability may be signs of allergy.
To cope with rare animal visits, your doctor may recommend using eye drops and a few extra puffs of asthma medication to block an allergic reaction. Generally, it is not a good idea to use medication to cope with an unhealthy condition or to mask symptoms.
Whether this approach may help your child depends on the child's current health and the intensity of the exposure. Someone should stand by prepared to administer the appropriate medication if your child has a severe reaction.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Allergies to animals are common. Find allies by finding others with similar needs and related concerns.Talk privately to parents and teachers. Attend PTA and school board meetings. You may discover someone unhappy because students don't wash their hands after handling the animals. Someone else may worry that classroom pets aren't being cared for properly.
A variety of allergy, health or disability concerns can bring people together to work for a healthier, barrier-free school. As a team, share concerns, get input from staff and parents, review standards in other districts, and develop recommendations for your school.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
In the 1970s, Congress passed laws requiring schools to remove barriers for children who were being left out and left behind. For example, schools districts build ramps to ensure access for staff, students and the public who use wheelchairs. However, schools may not be equally accommodating when a classroom pet is the barrier. A principal in Ohio told a parent to consider home schooling when the school's animals made her daughter sick at kindergarten registration.
"That is rare," comments Dr. Robert Fox, president-elect of the American Association of School Administrators. "The modern trend is to eliminate animals. These days most schools prohibit animals because so many teachers and students are allergic."
ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD
By law, schools must be accessible and safe for all students. If your child is allergic to animals, you have the right to ask the school to prohibit or remove animals that make your child sick.
If you get no support from the principal or district authorities, contact your state department of education. Tell your story to the Section 504 specialist in the pupil services or law division. You can also call your regional office of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (DOE-OCR) for information and advice. If all else fails, make a formal complaint to OCR that the school is violating your child's right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
TEACHERS HAVE ALLERGIES
Boyd Bosma at the National Education Association's Human and Civil Rights Office advises that "A doctor's statement ought to be sufficient to notify the school that arrangements need to be made. Local districts or state departments of education should have policies, health standards or guidelines for schools. Teachers protected by collective bargaining should use their grievance procedures for violations of health policies or unhealthful working conditions."
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)