Why Your Child with Food Allergies Needs a 504 Plan at School
Through the years, I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from parents asking if their child with food allergies needs a 504 Plan in school. From my experience, the answer is a resounding YES. Too many parents think that a 504 Plan is only written once things go sour with a school district. That is not correct! Or they think that their Health Care Plan is enough. That may be true, but the sad part is that you’ll only know if it’s untrue after a serious issue has occurred. Lastly, they think that since their school district has guidelines for food allergic children, their child’s teacher is already on board with food allergy accommodations. Sometimes that may be true, but when it’s not – it sure is nice to have a 504 Plan in place!
Your child needs a 504 Plan in place on the first day school starts. (By the way, your child needs a Health Care Plan too, and the staff needs to be trained how to administer your child’s epinephrine autoinjector. And all of this needs to be done prior to the start of the school year!)
What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 Plan is a written plan of accommodations for your child to safely attend school and to be included. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by schools that receive Federal financial assistance. So, we’re talking about some food allergies being labeled a ‘disability’.
A publicly funded school district must provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability in the school district’s jurisdiction regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. A disability does not equal diagnosis. A disability is a substantial impairment of a major life function (such as breathing or eating in the case of severe food allergies). There is no cookie cutter approach. Two children both having food allergies and a 504 plan would not have the exact accommodations in a 504 Plan. And there are some children who, when evaluated, will be determined to not need a 504 Plan. For example, a child allergic to goats will likely not require accommodations to be in a school classroom safely, while a child severely allergic to dairy likely will. The 504 Plan is written in a group setting of your child’s teacher(s), the principal, the school counselor, school nurse, the parents and the child (age appropriate). There may be others in attendance depending upon your school district’s policies.
How does a 504 Plan differ from a Health Care Plan/Allergy Action Plan?
Some school districts will use this language interchangeably. We use the Health Care Plan for the emergency actions to take in case of an allergic reaction; and the 504 Plan lists all the accommodations necessary for our son to be safe and included.
A Health Care Plan that includes written accommodations generally does not include procedural safeguards for parents to have should the plan not be followed. A 504 Plan does include these procedural safeguards, and you will sign an acknowledgement at the end of the 504 meeting stating that you have received these. Should your child’s plan not be followed, pull out these papers and follow the items exactly as written to rectify the situation.
Why does your child need a 504 Plan?
From our experience, it has kept our son, Morgan, who is now a senior in high school, safe and included in school. If your child has a 504 Plan, it will not be acceptable for a teacher to ask you to keep your child at home while the rest of the class does an ‘unsafe’ activity. Instead, the activity will need to be altered so that your child can be included. A peanut butter birdfeeder project becomes a Crisco Oil birdfeeder project – and every student can participate!
From our experience, a required yearly meeting keeps everyone aware. Health Care Plans are supposed to be looked at yearly, but that doesn’t occur in every school. A 504 Plan requires at least an annual review which means that all the appropriate staff members are brought back together to discuss the necessary accommodations. Morgan always attended the annual meeting which provided additional information to the staff for what was working and what needed to be amended.
From our experience, written accommodations ensure that all staff know what is expected. If the school agrees to have the playground monitor take your child’s EpiPen to the playground every day, yet nothing is in writing, how does that information get passed on to the appropriate staff? Having a 504 Plan with that stipulation in writing ensures that the right people receive the right information.
From our experience, if/when the 504 plan isn’t followed there are procedural safeguards. When we have had issues with a teacher not following our son’s Plan, we have had a discussion with her. Then if the plan still isn’t followed, we’ve contacted her supervisor. This has only occurred once in 13 years of having a 504 Plan. But all it took was the statement – “this is stated in Morgan’s 504 Plan” to have the issue fixed instantly. No school wants to be reported to the Office of Civil Rights. Ultimately, if a 504 Plan isn’t followed, and the school/school district doesn’t provide a solution, that’s where the issue can go to be resolved.
If there are any accommodations necessary for your child to attend school, ask your school district to evaluate him/her for a 504 Plan. You’ll be glad you did!
More Resources about 504 Plans: