Winnipeg-based elementary school teachers’ perspectives on food allergy management and practices: a qualitative investigation

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Santos, Mae Jhelene L.
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Introduction Food allergy affects approximately 7.0% of children worldwide. Children spend most of their waking hours at school, yet, teachers, who have the majority of contact with children during all school day, have variable food allergy-related knowledge. Objective We aimed to identify how Winnipeg-based elementary school teachers manage food allergic reactions in their classrooms and schools. Methods Winnipeg-based public and private school teachers who taught Kindergarten to Grade 6 were recruited via social media and word-of-mouth, and were interviewed virtually consent. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. The study followed a pragmatic framework. Data were analysed via thematic analysis. Member checking was done to enhance study rigour. Results We interviewed 16 teachers, who taught primarily public school and between Kindergarten Grade 3. The manuscript presents four identified themes. Theme 1 (“Each classroom is a case-by-case basis”) describes the minimal standardization and inconsistent policies and education between and within schools. Theme 2 (Food allergy-related knowledge, experience and supports shape teachers’ confidence) reflected teachers’ variable confidence/perceived food allergy knowledge. Theme 3 (Food allergy could be a more prominent conversation for teachers to “debunk the myths”) captured the lack of standardized food allergy education for teachers. Theme 4 (Communication between all parties is essential) described how teachers’ reliance on school staff, families and students to effectively communicate. The published paper presents two identified themes. Theme 1 (COVID-19 restrictions made mealtimes more manageable) depicted how pandemic-related restrictions, such as enhanced cleaning, handwashing, and emphasis on no food sharing, were deemed positively influencing food allergy management. Theme 2 (Food allergy management was indirectly adapted to fit changing COVID-19 restrictions) captured how food allergy management had to be adapted to pandemic restrictions. Teachers also had less nursing supports and virtual training. Conclusions Teachers’ food allergy management was informed by their knowledge and lived experience, guided by school policies, and students’ needs. Continuation of pandemic-related restrictions may enhance food allergy management in the classroom. Teachers unanimously wanted further food allergy education and training, and resources to improve communication gaps and language barriers. More training throughout the school year and multimedia resources may be beneficial.
food allergy, school, anaphylaxis, elementary school, teachers, qualitative study, interviews