The transition from high school kid to college adult is a big one even without food allergies in the mix. Families of high school seniors are currently in the throes of Open House visits and applications. Parents and their students are mulling over their options on everything from how far away from home a campus is to the overall net cost of attending one school vs. the other. For allergic families, the conversation also includes questions about food allergy policies and labeling in the dining hall, access to facilities to prepare your own food, and how well the office of disability services handles the needs of allergic students. Before you let it overwhelm you (because it sure can!), take a deep breath and consider these tips.
Ask Questions Early and Often
How early will vary depending on your specific current circumstances. If your student is a high school senior, early means start in earnest right now. Work with your student to identify a list of schools she may be interested in attending. Reach out to the Office of Disability Services at each school and ask them about how they manage food allergies. Talk to the dining services team when you tour the schools. Be clear about what your student needs and assess whether they can meet those needs. Your student should use the food allergy data you’ve collected together as part of her selection criteria.
If you’ve got a younger student, dig in and do the same research. Your student may be years off from applying, but it’s still a good time to start learning about what types of accommodations colleges offer. Note: FARE offers a Food Allergy College Search database that may be a good starting point. This isn’t a complete list of colleges that accommodate allergies well, but it does have good information when you’re starting.
You’ve Got Options
What questions do you ask? There are a variety of different accommodations you may need or want, and a variety of different options campuses may offer you. Ask questions like: Can a student request a food allergy-aware roommate? Maybe your son’s roommate will have the same allergy or maybe they’re just willing to keep the room egg-free to help keep your son safe. Ask about stock epinephrine laws in the state or policies regarding stock epinephrine on campus. Does the dining hall offer a printed menu (online or on paper) that lists allergens? Is there a campus dietician that can review the menu with your student and help him make healthy choices? Do students have dedicated allergy-free eating and food prep spaces? Do they have the ability to cook their own meals on campus in the dining hall or the residence hall? Is there access to health services 24/7?
Sometimes Circumstances Change
While supply chain distributions may not be quite as bad as they were at the onset of the pandemic, there are still goods and services that are in high demand and short supply. As allergy families we know the challenge this can present. Sometimes the “safe” version of a specific ingredient or treat isn’t available and the substitute that’s on the shelf just won’t do. This is impacting college students reliant on campus dining services too. The school dining hall is dependent on suppliers that may or may not need to substitute one brand or items for another. For allergic students, this means even if they have a menu listed online with allergy info, they should confirm allergy components when they arrive in the dining hall. They should be prepared with an idea of what alternative meal options they have – even if it means keeping a stash of safe microwavable meals in their dorm fridge.
HIPAA & Other Adult Stuff
College freshmen are typically 18-19 years old. Those starting the school year at 17 tend to turn 18 within the first few months of the school year. Why is this significant? Legally your child is now a full-fledged adult. It doesn’t matter if you’re footing the bills until your offspring is gainfully employed. It doesn’t matter if your son is covered under your health insurance. Healthcare providers can’t disclose information to you unless he lists you on his HIPAA release forms. Have this discussion with your child now. Right now. Not when he’s 18. Not when he’s had a reaction at school and you can’t get anyone treating him to give you an update on his condition. Do it right now before it’s an issue.
While you’re at it, have a conversation about FERPA, (aka the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.) This law is designed to protect the privacy of educational records and gives a student the right to review his own records. Parents hold the FERPA rights for minor children. You will need to sign a FERPA waiver when your child applies to college so that his high school can send transcripts to the schools he’s applying to. When your child turns 18, these rights are his and that means the school can’t give you access to his educational records without his permission. Whether or not your child wants you to have that permission or you want to request it becomes a family discussion, of course. It is, however, a discussion you need to have.