Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Are Voluntary Guidelines Useful?

by Kelley Lindberg

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Act (FAAMA), which directs the federal government to create national, voluntary food allergy management guidelines for schools. It also provides for school-based food allergy management incentive grants to help public schools implement those management guideliens.

This is great news. Right now, every school, every school district, and every state is on their own when it comes to forging food allergy guidelines for teachers and administrators to use in those schools. That means a whole lot of wheels being reinvented from scratch every year – and, more likely, a whole lot of wheels that will never even get built because schools are just too busy and financially strapped to take the time to start something that sounds that complicated.

By tapping a coalition of groups including the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to create these national guidelines, this new law will make it so much easier for all of those thousands of different school districts to use or adapt the guidelines, instead of starting from scratch. The easier something is to create, the more likely it will be to 1) be created, and 2) be supported and followed.

But many people in the food allergy community are upset to hear that the guidelines will be voluntary instead of mandatory.

For now, voluntary is a huge step forward, and will likely garner much more support than mandatory would have.

Chris Weiss addressed this issue in his FAAN blog. Read his take on the situation in his posting, “Reflecting on FAAMA.”

In addition, Michelle Fogg, the president and founder of the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN), wrote a response to a concerned parent, explaining why voluntary guidelines are a vital, useful, and necessary step, even though they aren’t mandatory. Here is what Michelle says:
Mandates are nearly impossible to pass in government and receive huge opposition no matter what the subject is. I can't speak directly for FAAN as to their motives for 'voluntary' BUT I do know that no 'one size fits all' approach would be applicable for every state and every school. The States don't want big government coming in and telling them what and how to do things. In my opinion, having a national set of guidelines for states to use when creating their own would give more uniformity generally and would save many states from having to create guidelines out of thin air. At least now there will be credible uniform information available to any state or school district wanting better management of food allergic children. It is up to us as citizens to make sure the powers that be know we want statewide guidelines in place...again these will be voluntary as no one approach is innately best for all. I have already spoken with the UT State School Board and Office of Education and the moment I said "voluntary guidelines" NOT a mandate, they began to listen and show interest. I understand your frustration because as a mother we think this should be a no brainer - a must have!! I think it will be standard in the future but unfortunately there is political red tape and it is going to take us as parents and a community speaking up and demanding it from our individual schools, districts, and representatives. Watch for info to come soon on how you can help support UFANs efforts to get statewide guidelines created and the information disseminated.

...I am currently engaged in the battle to get the State to mandate insurance coverage for medical formulas for EGIDs and it is crazy trying to get a mandate to go through (this is our second attempt)! The FAAMA took almost eight years to pass and had to be rolled into the larger Food and Safety Bill to even make it through. I'm happy because I think it's a victory to have any guidance out there and hopefully many will take advantage of it. If they don't then we'll have to demand it, right?!

Thanks for sharing your feelings with me,

Michelle Fogg
President & Founder
Utah Food Allergy Network

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