A Virginia first-grader died Monday after apparently suffering an allergic reaction at school, prompting questions about how schools handle the treatment of students with serious allergies.
Paramedics responded to an emergency call from officials at a Chesterfield County elementary school around 2:30 p.m. Monday, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and arrived to find 7-year-old Ammaria Johnson in cardiac arrest.
She was taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead, the Times-Dispatch reported. Her mother, Laura Pendleton, told the CBS affiliate in Richmond that her daughter was allergic to peanuts.
Pendleton also said she had tried in the fall to give the school an EpiPen — an epinephrine injector that can counteract severe allergic reactions — but the school would not agree to keep it.
Chesterfield school officials have declined in published news reports to speak about the specific circumstances of the little girl’s death, saying only that they rely on parents to provide necessary medications.
The tragedy has highlighted the Fairfax-based Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network’s call for legislation that would allow schools to stock epinephrine that could be used without a prescription in case of a serious allergic reaction.
Illinois and Georgia passed such laws last year, according to FAAN, and there is currently a bill in Congress to encourage other states to do the same.
Locally, Fairfax officials have stepped up efforts to ensure that everyone who might need to help a student with allergies — including parents, teachers, principals, school health aides, bus drivers and food-service managers — understands his role and responsibilities.
The county’s new guidelines for managing life-threatening allergies, which have been under development for more than a year, are slated to be released on Friday.
They were prompted by the growing number of Fairfax students with allergies — 12 percent of the county’s 177,000 students have a food, environment (such as latex) or insect (such as bee-sting) allergy, according to the health department’s School Health Services Annual Report.
Parents are required to fill out a medical form when they register a child for school, said Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Kim Dockery, a former principal whose own son has a severe peanut allergy.
School health aides use those medical forms to develop lists of students with serious conditions, Dockery said; principals, in turn, use those lists to figure out which teachers and staff members need specialized training, including in how to administer epinephrine.
Students are encouraged to wash their hands often and avoid sharing food. Schools are asked to post signs in classrooms where students have life-threatening allergies, reminding visitors to check with school staff before offering treats.
The whole system depends on parents filling out those forms fully and providing required medical prescriptions, said Esther Walker of the Fairfax County Health Department, who oversees the school health program. “We rely on the parents to provide us with this information,” Walker said.