CPS policy aims to curb allergic reactions

A clean problem: The new allergen policy attempts to control the risks associated with many cleaning materials in use.

A clean problem: The new allergen policy attempts to control the risks associated with many cleaning materials in use.

Alyssa Sykuta

A clean problem: The new allergen policy attempts to control the risks associated with many cleaning materials in use. Photo by Asa Lory
Columbia Public Schools adopted a Student Allergy Prevention and Response policy in hopes of creating an effective system to prevent and respond to allergic reactions efficiently. According to the policy itself, the plan “is designed to increase awareness, provide education and training, reduce the chance of exposure and outline responses to allergic reactions.”
The rule states that not only can allergies be potentially deadly for some individuals, but, “allergies can negatively impact student achievement by affecting concentration, auditory processing and attendance.”
The policy states the “best form of prevention” of allergic reactions is avoidance of the allergen entirely. Because of this, the district has decided to crack down on the types of chemicals and fragrances used in schools that could spark allergy problems. This includes air fresheners, oils and candles along with certain types of cleaning materials, disinfectants and pesticides. The school board must pre-approve all of these supplies.
“We’ve moved toward all environmental products,” said Mike Jones, CPS assistant director of custodial services. “All of our products that we use in our buildings to clean our buildings are environmentally sensitive cleaning products. … They contain no added fragrance and no dye, and they are also board-approved.”
Effects of the policy also reach school cafeterias. With the approval of only certain cleaning supplies, the effectiveness of some chemicals in the kitchen could go into question.
Laina Fullum, CPS director of nutrition services, said cafeterias will take a little longer to fully implement the cleaning supply aspect of the policy.
“Some of the supplies are not changing at all at this point in time until we can find a product that replaces it,” Fullum said. “But we are working with building services facilities to start thinking about greener ways to use our chemicals and to be as effective. We have to be as effective; we still have ordinances that we must abide by. So as far as sanitation is concerned, if it doesn’t do the exact same or better in sanitizing, then we can’t change the products just yet.”
The district will also no longer serve processed foods. This aspect of the policy does not only concern cafeteria food; vending machines will only offer items labeled with a complete list of ingredients, and prepackaged items used in concessions, fundraisers and classroom activities must also include a list of ingredients on the package.
“Students who have food allergies sometimes have a very violent reaction to a particular food ingredient,” Fullum said. “We’ve always actually operated this way, it just happens to be in policy now.
“It’s important for us to give parents and students access to that information so that they can avoid that allergen in their food.”
Although taking these extra measures is useful in preventing allergic reactions, the new policy provides extra precautions in case a life-threatening situation was to occur. Staff members must be regularly trained on causes and symptoms of allergic reactions, as well as how to use epinephrine premeasured in auto-injection devices (epi-pens).  District health services coordinator Lori Osborne plans to take charge of this part of the rule.
“I am training the staff on the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and allergies. [This includes] how to use an epi-pen,” Osborne said.
Training will occur annually in compliance with the policy, and it is required for every employee in the district.
With the implementation of new supplies and standards, the Student Allergy Prevention and Response Policy will take some time to fully institute. But although the accommodations will be extensive, Fullum believes the plan will have a meaningful effect.
“I think if anything, the policy is only going to help the district and people in the buildings because you have fewer chemicals that are going to affect people on any given level,” Fullum said.