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Keeping Kids Food Safe In Classrooms, Cafeteria

As Halloween approaches, food allergies have come to the forefront and local families are joining in with the ‘Teal Pumpkin Project’ to provide alternatives to candy for young trick-or-treaters.

Placing a teal pumpkin in your yard and offering items such as stickers, crayons or small toys can help families whose children suffer from food allergies, keeping Halloween a safe and enjoyable holiday.

The ever-growing issue of food allergies in children has also been brought to light in the Escalon Unified School District, where the parents of four-year-old Devin Berchtold hope to have him attend school. But with some life-threatening food allergies, especially to peanuts, that may prove to be a tough task.

This week, in the second part of a two-part series, the issue is looked at from the view of the school district.

“The district works with parents of students with food allergies to develop plans for each student. Plans can include dietary plans as well as medical plans,” explained Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Ron Costa. “I believe that parents of students with more severe allergies contact the district so that we can work together to ensure their child’s safety.”

Though Costa said he didn’t have a firm count of students with food allergies in the district, he knows there are those dealing with the issue. For some students, it is a simple case of just avoiding the foods. For others, whose allergies are more severe, it may be virtually impossible to ensure a ‘safe’ zone, although that ultimately is the goal.

“The district can work with the parents to develop a plan that will allow their child to attend school. With hundreds of students on school campuses, plans need to include a medical plan in case a student should be exposed to a food that they are allergic to,” he said. “If a child has a situation where attending a school is too dangerous, the district has the option of the home school program.”

Costa said that, even with steps the district can take to help make campuses safe, they still can’t control what someone might bring in from home. So if a student has peanut allergies, they could still be in danger if a classmate brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

It is not an easy situation, he admitted, but one that is gaining more attention as more students present allergies.

“I believe the food service staff, the school nurses, and the school clerical staffs are made aware and trained for emergency food allergy situations,” Costa added.

And whether the Berchtold family and others with children facing severe food allergies can come to an arrangement that allows their children to be on the school campuses remains to be seen, Devin’s parents said they are determined to try to make that happen for him.

They also want to encourage families to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project this coming Monday night.

The project is a nationwide effort that last year was done in all 50 states and 14 countries. The idea is simple, placing a teal pumpkin at your home to signify that you have treats specifically for those with allergies.

“Teal represents the color of food allergy awareness,” explained Danielle Berchtold, Devin’s mom. “The project encourages people to place a teal-painted pumpkin outside their door to show they are offering non-food treats such as stickers, small toys, crayons, etc. Families who are managing other diseases for which candy presents a problem, such as diabetes and celiac disease, have also shown great support.”

Originally started in Tennessee, the Teal Pumpkin Project is supported by FARE, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization.