What to Tell the Teacher About Your Gluten-Free Child

school celiac disease wpHow to prepare teachers for your gluten-free child

With good communication and cooperation it is possible to create a safe school environment for your gluten-free child.

  • What is Celiac Disease (CD)
  • an inherited medical disorder that affects the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by a substance called gluten
  • body becomes unable to absorb nutrients: protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, which are necessary for good health
  • Low iron and osteoporosis can be associated conditions

Incidence / Diagnosis Rates

  • 1 in 100 North Americans
  • with digestive symptoms, 1 in 56
  • 1 in 10 If you have a 1 ̊ relative with CD
  • CD has a 3-5% diagnosis rate, average diagnosis time is 12 years
  • 97% of celiacs are never diagnosed

Symptoms Can Include

  • classic – thin person, bulging stomach, diarrhea, foul smelling gas
  • adults – low iron, lactose intolerance, early onset osteoporosis, pre-existing disorder
  • children – symptoms more gastric, small stature, irritability, inattention, lethargy,
  • migraines, often sick or sickly, dark circles under eyes
  • dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) fluid filled blisters, knees, elbows, extremely itchy
  • Good news – children generally make a speedier recovery than adults

What Happens When a Celiac Eats Gluten?

  • vomiting & diarrhea – may need the restroom immediately / may react in 12 hours
  • may need to spend extra time in the washroom
  • immediate medical attention is NOT required, there is no antidote ie epi-pen
  • brain fog, unable to focus, lethargy, grumpy, irritable, flu-like symptoms for a day or a week
  • may need more time to complete assignments

How Much Gluten is Enough to Cause a Reaction

  • 10mg – a dime is 2200mg, 1 grain in 50,000
  • Health Canada ruled that  ‘Gluten Free’ means <20 parts per million

How is Celiac Disease Different than an Allergy?

  • health effects are short term and long term
  • gluten triggers an autoimmune response that can lead ta host of other autoimmune mediated conditions: Type 1 diabetes, Fibromyalgia, Sarcoidosis, Sjögren’s Syndrome, Thyroid disease, Myasthenia gravis, Parkinsonism, Interstitial cystitis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and more
  • allergic reaction is immediate, can be treated with timely provison of antihistmines, minimal longterm effects

How is CD diagnosed?

  • Specific blood tests that screens for the antibodies that celiacs make
  • If blood test positive, diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine, taken under pleasant sedation
  • If blood test negative, and symptoms persist, biopsy should still be performed

Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) 6-10% population

  • Newly recognized condition. All the same overt symptoms, but have negative blood work, negative biopsy.
  • Treatment is the same – gluten-free diet

What to Talk About with the Parents of Your  Gluten-Free Student

  • establish child’s precise needs – are they celiac, NCGS, Wheat allergy, lifestyle-choice
  • how does child react to gluten ingestion – what to watch for
  • parents MUST be notified of suspected / confirmed / accidental or deliberate ingestion


  • for the year: seasonal events, holiday parties, pizza/hot dog/hamburger days, field trips with food as an activity, trips with restaurant stops, overnight trips, class birthday list
  • for the week: food-oriented class activity so that parents can prepare with alternatives, educate chaperones.
  • for the day: 24 hours advanced notice of special treats in the classroom so parent can prepare look-a-like options for student, make alternative meal arrangements
  • ask for – and accept – help from parent

Food Protocol 

  • can only have foods provided or specifically approved by parents
  • ask parent to provide a stash of approved treats to give in place of gluten treats
  • if possible, reduce use of food as a reward in classroom

Meals / Snacks 

  • celiac student – wash table & hands before eating (keep wipes in desk)
  • other students – wash table & hands after eating
  • suggest GF place setting over table, pull table off tthe side, group the GF together
  • monitors / supervisors / other students need to be aware of the protocol
  • respect that the child- ie can’t eat their lunch because it had gluten crumbs on it
  •  students may need access to a fridge or microwave – sandwiches not always an option

Bathroom Privileges 

  • may not be able to wait, may take longer
  • some may be to shy task – ask them instead
  • establishing a code avoids embarrassment / keeps teacher informed

Special Student Challenges 

  • if student is new to the diet or too young to understand the diet (K-3) , ensure that they eat only their own food
  • encourage ALL students not to chew on pencils, bite nails etc.

School Materials That Contain Gluten 

  •  avoid Crayola Play Dough, Elmer’s Finger Paints, paper mache crafts, cheerios, pasta
  •  if wheat flour to be used, flour should be mixed outside the room if used at all
  • airborne flour  can hang in the air for 3-36 hours and settles on every surface
  • after a gluten craft, all desks, scissors, pencils, crayons, surfaces should be  thoroughly washed with soap and water
  • welcome assistance – parent may offer to help out by making GF version for student  or entire classroom.

Educational – Student / Teacher Materials

  • Cilie Yack is Under Attack, Caryn Talty
  • Mommy, What is Celiac Disease?, Katie Chalmers
  • NoMore Cupcakes and Tummy Aches, Jax Lowell
  • Eating Gluten-Free with Emily, Bonnie Kruszka

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I welcome your input! If you have any suggestions or comments about the above, please be in touch with [email protected]. Thank you!

Additional Resources:

Ellen BayensElleb Bayens LinkedIn is the Founder and President of The Celiac Scene™, the go-to gluten-free resource for Victoria, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.  Referred to as a ‘Remarkable Celiac’ by the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) , Ellen speaks first hand and with infectious humour about the challenges of the diet and how they can become the gateway to good health. As Past Vice-President of the Victoria Chapter of the CCA and as ‘British Columbia’s Gluten-Free Ambassador,’ Ellen is happy to share her expertise and enthusiasm for gluten-free living with teachers and school support staff.

If you would like Ellen to speak at your school (in the Victoria, BC area) please contact [email protected]. Presentations are free of charge!

celiac parents

Are you a parent or caregiver of a gluten-free child, or a celiac contemplating parenthood? If so, you are invited to join The Celiac Scene’s Closed Celiac Parents Facebook Support Group, a place for families to care and share with others on the same journey. Ask to join!