Keeping a food-allergic child safe and included in all school activities requires considerable planning. But fortunately, you do not have to go it alone. Thanita Glancey, president of the Loudoun Allergy Network in Virginia, has gained expertise in school allergy accommodations through years of advocacy work. She walks us through the steps that are essential to making sure your child’s school is safe, inclusive, and has the right emergency response procedures in place.
1. Know the local rules
Find out if your school district has a food allergy management policy or guidelines. As well, check your state department of education for allergy policies or law.
2. Get an Allergy Action Plan
Have your allergist complete an Allergy Action Plan (AAP), also referred to as a Food Allergy Action Plan (FAAP). This is the medical form for the school that will itemize a student’s allergies and medications, how to recognize and treat mild and severe allergic reactions, and state the emergency protocol to follow.
3. Develop the accommodation plans
Think of these as a “how to” manual for caring for your allergic child. Following are the key ones:
• The Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) – also referred to as a Health Care Plan (HCP), this plan documents the accommodations required to keep the allergic child safe in the school setting. The preparation of the IHCP is a team effort between the parent and the school nurse or an identified staff member or the district health department. Be prepared with your suggested accommodations for the initial discussions. It may also be helpful to take the school’s suggested accommodations to your allergist for discussion. All students with medical conditions should have an IHCP/HCP.
• The 504 Plan – named for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, this document addresses equal access to education for students with disabilities, which public schools must provide. Food-allergic students can fall under this law’s auspices since food allergies qualify as an impairment of “major life activities” (e.g. eating, breathing, caring for oneself). Public school students with disabilities must be allowed to participate in both academic and non-academic activities, including meals, recess and physical education to the “maximum extent appropriate” to their individual needs.
Parents should make a request, in writing, for a 504 Plan for their child to the 504 coordinator for the school. This may be the principal, assistant principal or an employee at the school district level, so first call your school to identify the coordinator. The written request should both describe the impairment (list the food allergies) and state the reason for the request: to avoid the risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis and to provide equal access to education. It is helpful to have the allergist write a letter detailing this information.
I encourage families who have children with food allergies to obtain a 504 Plan, since it assists the staff in understanding how to manage the allergy, while keeping the student included in all activities. It also helps the school avoid finding itself in an anti-discrimination violation.
• The USDA Physician’s Statement for Students with Special Dietary Needs – provides non-discriminatory regulations and regulates the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. It mandates substitutions to the regular meal for children who are unable to eat school meals because of disabilities. View it here.
4. Schedule meetings
You’ll likely have several meetings in the course of developing a comprehensive plan for your allergic student. The first may be one to develop the plan, and another will be to review it with staff. Some schools will require a separate meeting to determine 504 eligibility before proceeding to the accommodations. To develop the IHCP and 504 plans, request a meeting via e-mail so you have documentation. Send the request to the principal and copy the assistant principal and school nurse.
The 504 Plan committee is composed of individuals with knowledge of the student, typically the parent, the 504 coordinator, the principal or assistant principal, the school or district nurse and the teacher. Meetings for an IHCP and 504 Plan can occur on the same day, but discussions of the details for each should be separate. It may also simply be stated that the 504 Plan includes accommodations stated in the IHCP. The general idea is, if the student’s environment is safe, the student can access education and activities provided by the school to non-disabled peers.
After the student’s plan has been finalized, a meeting with the staff should occur. This allows you to field specific questions about your child’s allergies.