Where Food Allergies, School and the Law All Come Together

By Kristen Chandler

School Food IEP
Image source: USDA

School will be back in session soon. For all of us food allergy parents, it is time to start checking that we have everything ready for school, in addition to regular school supplies.

Do you have all your prescriptions filled along with a medical form signed by your doctor, stating your child can take these medications at school if needed? My children’s school requires that any medications we leave do not expire within the school year, so I get them filled 1-2 weeks before school starts.

Do you have updated special diet forms signed by your child’s doctor or allergist?

Do you have an individual healthcare plan (IHP) and emergency action plan (EAP) created and printed out? At the beginning of each school year, I meet with our school nurse to revise and update my children’s action plans. These documents list out the steps that students and staff will take to accommodate my children’s allergies and avoid allergen exposure around my children. The EAP lists out scenarios of different locations on and off campus (classroom, lunchroom, gym, field trip) where a possible reaction could occur, and the steps that will be taken if one does occur. If you don’t have one of these prepared already, talk to your child’s doctor or school nurse to come up with one that addresses your child’s special needs.

But did you know that in addition to all of these your child may also be eligible to have a 504 plan in place at their school?

What Is a 504 Plan?

Not sure what a 504 plan is? Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, children are required to receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) regardless of medical condition or disability. If your child attends a public school that receives federal funding, any and all accommodations must be made to ensure that they receive a proper education. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was expanded in 2008 to include hidden disabilities like food allergies. If someone has a medical condition that has the potential to interfere with a major life activity (e.g., breathing), then their condition must be considered a disability by law. Therefore, food allergies fall under the category of a disability.

Is There a Connection Between Asthma and Food Allergies?

Every school should have a 504 coordinator who will set up a meeting to decide whether or not your child’s medical needs qualify for a 504 plan. You will need to request that your child receive a 504 plan before this meeting can be set up. You will also need to provide documentation from your child’s doctor or allergist stating the severity of their food allergies.

Also, if your child has another disability that falls under one of the thirteen categories in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they also qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Normally, food allergies will not qualify a student for an IEP. However, if they have any other disabilities or special needs, their food allergy accommodations can be included in the IEP, and a separate 504 plan will not be needed.

For example, my son had a speech impairment and received speech therapy in school from kindergarten until third grade. He qualified for an IEP, and his food allergies were included in this. All of the staff who have interacted with him over the years have taken good care of him and observed his IHP and EAP, with the exception of one teacher who failed to notify me about an impromptu party she threw for her class, where my child had nothing to eat. His IHP clearly states that I should be given as much notice as possible to any events involving food in and out of the classroom, so that I can provide him with safe food. Naturally, I brought the incident to the attention of the head administrators and it did not happen again.

504 or No 504?

My child tested out of speech therapy two years ago, and therefore his IEP is no longer active. However, I haven’t requested a 504 plan for him yet because, other than that one incident, the staff at his school have properly adhered to his IHP and EAP and I haven’t felt the need to request a 504 plan. Still, some parents prefer a 504 plan to an IHP and/or EAP because if a child has a 504 plan in place and the school fails to comply with any accommodations stated in the plan, the parent can then turn to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for further assistance.

You know your child best. If you feel that their allergies may require that they have a 504 plan, discuss it with their doctor and then go from there. At the very least, meet with your child’s school nurse to make sure they have an IHP and EAP in place for your child. Under any circumstances, we want our children to be safe. Even more so when they have special needs of any kind, including food allergies.

Does your child have an IHP, EAP, 504 plan or an IEP in place at their school? Is your child starting school this year and do you have questions about any of the above health plans? Let us know in the comments section and we will do our best to answer your questions! Also, please check out the Share section of our website for resources and sample documents that may come in handy for the upcoming school year.

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