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Parents Push for Statewide Food Allergy Guidelines

Beth Martinez, who saved her young son's life after an allergic reaction to something he ate, has joined with other parents across the state to support bills they say would help schools deal with an increasing number of students with food allergies.

Lorenzo Martinez giving out hand wipes to his friends after lunch.

Three-year-old Lorenzo Martinez was sitting at the dinner table when he started coughing. Then his face swelled and he broke out in a rash. Suddenly, the coughing stopped. Lorenzo went limp.

Beth Martinez scooped up her son and injected him with epinephrine, saving his life. By the time firefighters arrived, the toddler was alert and smiling at the flashing lights outside his window.

Lorenzo was diagnosed with multiple food allergies when he was 9 months old, so his mother knew the signs of a bad reaction, and was prepared to help him. When he started school at Travis Heights Elementary School in Austin, Martinez was terrified. She went to the campus and taught staff how to deal with students with food allergies and how to treat her son if he happened to eat the wrong thing again. But she worries about other Texas children with food allergies, because there are no state guidelines that tell school staff how to prevent and deal with allergic reactions.

Martinez has joined with other parents across the state to support a pair of bills they say would help schools deal with an increasing number of students with food allergies. SB 27 and HB 639 would create a committee of experts, school officials and parents to develop guidelines for schools to use to craft food allergy protocols. 

“The biggest thing that any parent with a kid with food allergies faces is entrusting their child to someone else’s care,” Martinez said.

A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in the U.S., 3 million children under age 18 have a food allergy, a number that's climbing. Four of every 100 children has a food allergy, according to the report.

That means roughly one child in every classroom has a food allergy, said Mike Lade, board member for the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

“People may misunderstand the severity of food allergy, and they may think, 'Oh, poor you,' that this is the one-in-a-million bubble boy. Well it’s not,” Lade said.

Twelve other states already have food allergy guidelines, and two more are considering them.

Laurie Combe, health issues chairwoman for the Texas School Nurses Organization, said school districts should welcome guidelines, especially as schools cut nursing staff because of budget troubles.

Parents with children who don't have food allergies sometimes object to restrictions on certain foods at school parties and in cafeterias, Combe said. But usually, giving those parents information about the allergies and their potentially deadly consequences changes their outlook. “They can put it in the perspective of, ‘What if that was my child?'” Combe said.

While some lawmakers may call the measure another unfunded mandate on public schools, state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-San Antonio, who introduced SB 27, said schools are already required to care for the health and safety of their students.

“[The guidelines] could make all the difference in the world," Zaffirini said, "not only for the security and safety of the children involved but also the peace of mind of their parents."

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