How should I prepare for my child to go back to school in the fall?

By The Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Team

There are actually brand new recommendations to help families managing celiac disease safely attend school, day care, after school programs, and other learning environment activities. In 2019, Dr. Jocelyn Silvester and Janis Arnold from our Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Disease Program team joined a national coalition of educators, health care professionals, food service providers, advocacy groups, and parents/guardians to develop standardized recommendations and training resources to ensure the safety of a child with celiac disease in any learning environment. The recommendations are now complete and available for families nationwide to use.

The 2020 Voluntary Recommendations for Managing Celiac Disease in Learning Environments advocate developing a Celiac Disease Management Plan for children with celiac disease. A successful plan depends on a strong partnership among families, medical practitioners, and staff in learning environments to help children overcome challenges associated with having celiac disease. All of the necessary tools are found in the recommendations, including a table of reasonable accommodations, action lists for parents, students, and educators, sample 504 plans, letters to share with teachers and Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs), gluten-free school supply lists, and much more.

You can download a copy of the new recommendations.

Are there any special considerations for COVID-19 and going back to school for students with celiac disease?

The beginning of the school year is always a good time to connect or reconnect with nurses and teachers regarding the need to think about and communicate about activities that may require considerations to be safe for students who require gluten-free diets. Whether you are starting at a new school or returning to familiar faces and old friends, don’t be bashful about partnerships and advocacy to help make this a successful school year.

Like many things in 2020, the coming school year is likely to be very different from those that have come before it. Feeding students is just one area that is being revised in many schools to accommodate new guidelines to reduce the spread of infections. This may mean a new caterer or a switch from cafeteria-style to “grab and go” meals to avoid crowding and line-ups. There may also be changes in where students eat, so even if you bring your lunch to school, it is worth checking in to make sure that there remains a plan for a clean surface on which to eat the lunch.

Are there any special considerations for COVID-19 and celiac disease?

There are many questions about whether people with autoimmune conditions have a higher risk for severe complications of coronavirus infection, especially for those who use medications that suppress or alter the body’s immune response. This is much less of a concern for celiac disease, as it is treated with a gluten-free diet, which is not known to affect normal immune function.  Celiac disease is not considered to be an immunocompromised state in children, and in itself is not known to be a risk factor for severe effects of COVID-19.

Like their classmates, students with celiac disease (and their families) should follow all current public health recommendations and exercise careful infection control practices. This may include physical distancing, wearing a face mask, washing hands with soap and water frequently and for at least 20 seconds, and avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth. Patients with other medical conditions should contact their healthcare provider for further disease-specific guidance and should refer to information provided by local health authorities.

The Boston Children’s Hospital Celiac Team:

Janis Arnold, LICSW
Sophie Burge MS, RDN, LD
Denis Chang, MD, MS
Alan Leichtner, MD
Tara McCarthy MS, RDN
Randi Pleskow, MD
Jocelyn Silvester, MD PhD
Dascha C. Weir, MD
Sharon Weston, MS RD, LDN

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