Every parent struggles when their child goes to school for the first time or when they start at a new school.
For parents of a food allergic child, this feeling is heightened. There are not only concerns for how they will adjust to their new school but with added health and safety concerns too.
As a parent, you need to feel confident that the staff will be able to care for your food-allergic child in the best way possible so your child can enjoy their time at school and not worry about a possible allergic reaction. To create a safe environment for your child, you may find it necessary to work with the school to create an individual health care plan for your child. This is known as a 504 Plan.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best way to create and implement a 504 plan for your son or daughter at school.
What is a 504 Plan?
This plan is available under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law applying to any school that receives federal funding and covers a range of disabilities.
A 504 Plan in relation to food allergies (it can be used for disabilities as well) is a comprehensive food allergy management plan written in collaboration with your child’s school. The plan will outline how your food allergic child’s needs will be met throughout the school day.
Why have a 504 Plan for your child with allergies?
Although your food allergic child doesn’t need to have a 504 Plan, there are a number of reasons why it is beneficial:
- As a 504 Plan is available under Section 504, this means that it can be enforced in a court of law, and therefore you can be sure that your child will have a much higher level of protection than they would have otherwise.
- It also provides guidance to all staff members within a school for how your child’s allergies should be handled, even with staff changes. If there is a new staff member, they can quickly learn how to best care for your child’s needs.
- A 504 Plan ensures that you can take a methodical approach to health and safety measures relating to food allergy. A 504 plan makes it easy to outline how every scenario should be handled.
Creating and Introducing a 504 Plan for Your Food Allergic Child
To set the process in motion, you first need to contact the 504 Coordinator for your child’s school. This may be a staff member at the school itself, or it may be someone working for your school district. Simply call the school and ask to schedule a 504 meeting.
This 504 Coordinator will then assemble a 504 Team. This is typically school staff members who will determine whether your child is eligible for protection under Section 504. The 504 Team will consider your child’s medical information, and so it is likely that you will need to gather relevant medical records from your child’s pediatrician or allergist.
When the 504 Team has found your child eligible, they will work with you to create the most appropriate 504 Plan. Don’t be nervous about this process — they aren’t looking for ways to avoid caring properly for your child! Asking for a 504 meeting and plan is just a necessary part of the process.
You can create a 504 plan from scratch, but it is easiest to work from a template. 504 plan templates can be found online, though your school may have one to customize. There is no official federal 504 Plan form.
Typically, a 504 Plan will outline:
- the type of allergy/allergies
- symptoms/signs of an allergic reaction
- emergency treatment plan
- relevant school policies
- special services/accommodations needed
- training of staff
Note: be sure to check the laws in your state and district as some require written authorization from a physician to allow your child to carry an EpiPen.
Accommodations to Consider for Your Child’s 504 Plan
Before collaborating with the school to create your child’s 504 Plan, first think about the accommodations your child needs so you can easily discuss them with staff. Some points to consider are:
It should be crystal clear what the emergency treatment plan is, should your child have an allergic reaction. Someone must be responsible for the EpiPen, and an inhaler should your child need one. It must also be clear who should and can administer the injection.
This person is often a school nurse or your child’s teacher, but if they are unavailable for any reason, there need to be alternative delegates. No matter who has this responsibility, it is important that anyone will be able to understand how to administer the epinephrine in case of an emergency.
It should also be stated that if your food allergic child is able and of an appropriate age, they must be given their EpiPen should they ask for it AT ANY TIME, whether they appear to be having an allergic reaction or not.
In the Classroom
A letter should be sent home to all parents of classmates, letting them know of the allergen-free policy within classrooms so that they can be considerate about what food they send their children to school with.
It is also good practice to have all children wash their hands before they enter the classroom, both at the start of school and after lunch and recess. This ensures that should another child have been in contact with an allergen beforehand, there is a lower likelihood of contamination within the classroom.
There should also be a school policy that prohibits using food for any school projects as a precautionary measure, or at least it should be done so with consideration for your child’s needs.
Lunch and Recess
You should discuss with staff the possibility of establishing ‘nut or allergen-free tables’ in the school cafeteria so that your child can stay safe during lunchtimes. This policy enables other children to consume allergens at school without causing harm to children with food allergies.
‘Safe’ lunches and snacks should be stored separately from all other foods to avoid the possibility of cross-contamination.
You should also consider how your child can be accommodated during non-regular school events, such as field trips, school parties, and extracurricular activities. This ensures your child won’t miss out on these particularly enjoyable parts of school due to their food allergy.
It can also be a good idea to request:
- Should your child feel unwell, an adult must accompany them to the bathroom or nurse’s office
- You should be contacted within 24 hours of a possible celebration involving food, so you can provide safe alternatives
What does a 504 plan look like in practice?
Although the law doesn’t require a 504 Plan to be in writing, it is absolutely recommended you do so. Having a comprehensive written plan means nothing can be misinterpreted. A 504 Plan can be as short as a one-page form or a comprehensive plan, depending on the complexity and severity of your child’s food allergy.
This written 504 Plan will then be available for each staff member who has any interaction with your child throughout the school day. It should be signed by you as well as the 504 Coordinator.
Your child’s teacher(s) will use your 504 plan as a daily guide for how to ensure your child can learn in a fun and safe space.
A 504 plan is often a living document, meaning it can change if your child’s needs change. While food allergies are often unchanging, you may find that they grow out of one aspect of their allergy. For example, while they may be highly allergic to peanuts, you may find they grow out of their cow’s milk allergy. Many allergy parents update their 504 plan each year.
Most 504 plans will also outline parent and student responsibilities. This includes providing the right medication, communicating any changes, and students advocating for themselves.
Key Takeaways for Parents
- A 504 Plan can be enforced by law to guarantee that your child is receiving the best possible care
- you can include as much detail as necessary
- A 504 Plan gives you confidence that your food allergic child will be accommodated for during every aspect of school life
- A 504 Plan is the best way to ensure that every relevant member of staff is trained to deal with and treat an allergic reaction in an emergency
- It is not demanding to ask for a 504 meeting and plan – it’s a necessity!
With a 504 Plan in place, sending your food allergic child off to school each morning will become much less worrying and you can relax knowing that your child will be in safe hands no matter what is going on at school or who is responsible for your child.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.