School psychologist and food allergy mom, Marissa Leitner, shares her tips on creating a 504 plan to outline the accommodations your food allergy child needs.
As a school psychologist and food allergy mom, I recognize the importance of a 504 Plan and/or an Individual health care plan. Here are my tips on how to create a 504 plan that best outlines the accommodations your child will need to minimize the risk of a possible food allergic reaction and recommended treatment in case of an allergic reaction.
What is a 504 Plan?
The 504 plan (based on Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act) provides a person with a disability the full participation in the benefits of federally assisted programs, specifically, public school. Having a food allergy falls into the disability category because major life activities can be impaired, such as breathing and eating, that would ultimately prevent a child from accessing the curriculum. A 504 Plan is essentially the written blueprint for how a school needs to accommodate your child in school. You can learn more about a 504 Plan here and here. (While the 504 Law does not extend to Religious or Private schools, many of these schools are willing to work with families to provide accommodations.)
My Tips for Introducing a 504 Plan:
First, Request an Evaluation: Write a letter (via email or bring a note and ask to have it time stamped and make a copy for yourself) to the 504 coordinator of your child’s school requesting a 504 Plan eligibility evaluation due to diagnosed life-threatening food allergies. Ask your allergist to provide a statement indicating that the accommodations are necessary in the school setting for your child’s specific needs. Determine what is reasonable, developmentally appropriate, and medically appropriate for your child. Explain that you would like to meet with the team to develop a plan for your child to have a safe school environment under Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Engage A Team of Advocates for Your Child: The meeting should include the 504 Coordinator, school nurse, school psychologist, teachers, and child’s guardians. You are all a part of a team working toward the goal of keeping your child safe.
Set Clear Expectations: At the meeting, remain positive, open, respectful and clear on what the expectations are and an open mind about how the team can work together. It also helps if parents paint a clear picture of what an allergy looks like--how severe it can be--so that the school staff who may be less familiar with allergies can better understand your concerns. (If possible, consider bringing a photo of your child from a previous allergic reaction, so the team can visualize the severity). Ultimately, the plan should be clear enough so that a substitute teacher could walk into the classroom and understand it. Ask for a note taker at the meeting and request for a copy of the notes to ensure that your requests have been documented and to clarify if there have been many misunderstandings.
Enlist Support: These meetings can be emotional--we are talking about your child’s health and safety!--so consider bringing a spouse, partner, family member or close friend who can provide additional support.
Finally, Thank You’s and Reminders: Acknowledge the school staff for their work to protect and keep your child safe. Set a reminder on your calendar to review this plan, or an updated one at the beginning of each school year (or if there is personnel change) so the entire team is aware. Provide multiple copies of the plan for each teacher at the school.
Accommodations to Consider for Your Child’s 504 Plan
This is not a comprehensive list so check with your health care provider to ensure it meets your child’s needs
-Working with your allergist, it should be noted who will keep the EpiPen (and asthma inhaler if necessary) and administer on the school campus. Anyone (even a substitute teacher) should be able to understand the instructions about administering an EpiPen. Have the team consider all possible scenarios such as field trips, lunchroom seating, classroom foods, etc.
-If your child is at an appropriate age and able, EpiPens should be given any time they ask for it, with or without cause.
-If your child feels unwell, they should not be allowed to walk to the restroom, nurse, or anywhere in the school alone.
-The school nurse is always on site with a set of EpiPens for your child (and Benadryl and inhaler).
-Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) offers helpful resources: Emergency Care Plan.
-Parent-approved letter sent home with general information on specific allergies and letting other parents know of the nut-free classroom policy.
-No home-baked goods allowed for classroom treats.
-All students wash hands with soap when they enter the classroom, including after recess and lunch.
-Child has access to his/her own scissors, markers, etc.
-Computer keyboards to be wiped down in the classroom and/or computer lab.
-No outside snacks to be given to your child without written consent from parent.
-Storage place in the classroom where safe snacks/special treats can be kept for your child for special occasions. (Parents will be notified if foods run out)
-No activities, lesson plans or crafts to include allergen (to avoid activity exclusion.)
-A statement that you would be notified at least a day in advance of celebrations so your child could bring in something similar but safe.
-Determine if your child needs to be at a nut-free table. If your child does require a nut-free lunch table, include a statement indicating how it will be handled so your child does not sit alone. The peanut-free table will be washed with a solution and a peanut-free sponge
-If your child does not need a nut-free table, consider including a statement asking that your child not sit immediately next to someone with an allergen.
-Child will only have to clean his/her own eating space.
-Extended time for assignments and assessments if exposure and treatment take place, or if your child is enrolled in a treatment program and needs to miss school.
Field Trips/ Bus Accommodations:
-Field trips: Which adult should accompany your child? A parent or approved 'representative' will be allowed to go on all field trips or your child must be with the teacher on field trips. Teachers must carry cell phones on all field trips.
-Bus driver knows how to administer EpiPen.
-Bus must pull over and call 911 and remain with your child if EpiPen is administered on the bus.
As a food allergy mom myself, I know how nerve-wracking it can be when you introduce your child to a school setting -- full of exciting new adventures and possibilities, but also with the fear of an accidental exposure to allergenic foods. In crafting a plan for my son and as a school psychologist myself, I’ve learned how to partner with teachers, counselors, and school administrators to keep my child as safe as possible and ultimately, be able to enjoy school and his classmates! A 504 Plan will be one of your best resources for managing your child’s food allergy. And thankfully, with Ready. Set. Food!, parents now have the tools to introduce allergens safely and easily.
About Marissa Leitner: Marissa is a school psychologist and mother, who advocates for children with food allergies professionally and personally. As a licensed educational psychologist, she has worked in public and private schools and has overseen 504 accommodation planning for students. Marissa’s son has life-threatening food allergies and he requires accommodations in his preschool classroom.
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