Why Sabrina's Law Is Important

The policies Ontario school staff members must follow to ensure the safety of your children with severe allergies

by: Alex Thom
Why Sabrina's Law Is Important

On September 30, 2003 a 13-year-old girl named Sabrina Shannon was taken off life support and died; her cause of death was anaphylaxis. Sabrina went into anaphylactic shock after eating lunch in her school cafeteria. The coroner determined that tongs used to serve Sabrina's French fries had also been used to serve poutine, and that Sabrina's reaction was a result of residue from the cheese curds (she was severely allergic to dairy) left on the tongs. It's unfathomable, isn't it? That a child can die from something so seemingly innocuous? Despite Sabrina being aware of her severe allergies and very diligent in protecting herself, she died as a result of them. I can't even tell you how this terrifies me as the parent of a child with anaphylaxis.

Sending any child to school is a nerve-wracking experience; when severe allergies are involved it's even scarier. In response to their incredible loss, Sabrina's parents lobbied for schools to have better contingency plans in place for students who suffer from severe allergies. On January 1, 2006 An Act to Protect Anaphylactic Students: Sabrina's Law was put into place. It was the first legislation of its kind in the world, aiming to ensure that all school boards have policies and procedures for addressing anaphylaxis and making schools as safe as possible for students with severe allergies.

Sabrina's Law states that each Ontario school must follow board policies for students who suffer from severe allergies. The idea is that the administration and the community work together to create as safe an environment as possible for the at-risk student. The Government of Ontario has a very useful online tutorial for Anaphylaxis Prevention Training that assists in the training for these allergy plans.

Although no school will ever be completely risk-free, if the community works together, they can be much safer. As stated by the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), "Anaphylaxis management is a shared responsibility that includes allergic children, their parents, caregivers, and the entire school community." I stress the community part of that statement, because it's imperative that other families understand the severity of these allergies. We're not asking you to accommodate our child's food preferences, we're asking you to save a life.

CSACI also offers these tips for parents of children with anaphylaxis:

  • Educate your child on avoidance strategies.
  • Know that you are responsible for informing the school about your child's allergies and providing the child and/or school with an epinephrine auto-injector.
  • Always be aware of EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injector) expiry dates. The EpiPen website has a great reminder service where you can register to help remind you of expiration dates.
  • Your school should have you complete an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan which includes your child's photo, allergy information, emergency contact details and your physician's signature.
  • You should provide your child with allergy-free non-perishable food items, including treats for special occasions.
  • Parents should stay in contact with school staff, and discuss all field trip arrangements.
  • If there are food services offered at your school, you should also meet with the staff managing these to discuss allergen management policies for menus if your child will be eating their food.
  • Be sure your child has an epinephrine auto-injector with his or her name on it, kept in a readily-available location which is unlocked (preferably on your child).
  • Stress to your child that he or she may not eat any foods that have not been approved by his or her parents, EVER.
  • Have your child wear medical identification that details their allergies.

The entire school community should be educated on how to manage anaphylactic allergies and students should know how to protect their peers. CSACI recommends general awareness sessions, assemblies, and special health lessons. In addition, peers must be taught that teasing/bullying allergic students is absolutely intolerable and will be dealt with immediately. 

I've been spending time reviewing the resources on the EpiPen website, and recommend it for all parents of at-risk kids. They also have a Facebook group that aims to build a community where those who deal with severe allergies can find helpful information and support. In particular, here is the info I found most helpful, and will be bringing with me to my son's school in September:

Action Steps for Anaphylaxis Management

This step-by-step registration helper can be used when registering your at-risk child for school. It is also a great idea to use it as a reminder at the beginning of the school year, or to educate new staff.

Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan

This plan should be completed and given to your child's school to help ensure staff know what to do in the event of a severe allergic reaction. Included should be your child's photo, allergy details, emergency contact info, emergency protocol, and the signatures of all parents/guardians and your child's physician.

School Communications from Principals and Teachers

These are samples letters your Principals and teachers can use to notify other families of your child's severe allergy. By educating the other parents, they can help create a safer environment for all our kids.

Working together, we can make our schools safer for kids with severe allergies.

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Severe allergies are on the rise in Canada.
We teamed up with EpiPen so you can arm yourself with information and be prepared if a life-threatening allergic reaction occurs.
You can find out more about life-threatening allergies and read stories from other parents on our A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Kids with Severe Allergies page.