DISCLAIMER: The following post outlines the writer’s personal experience with 504 plans. It is not intended to act as legal advice. As always, please consult your doctor and/or child’s educators with any questions about 504 plans.
Sending your child to school can be an unnerving idea for parents, especially if your child has food allergies. In this case, you may put in place a 504 plan to ensure your child is able to receive certain accommodations at school. Below, I’ve compiled information about 504 plans including how to create this document, and accommodation examples for children with food allergies.
What is a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is a legal document between you and your child’s school. It lists certain accommodations your school will implement for your child. The name comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. It also guarantees equal access to an education. Schools that receive federal funding cannot exclude or discriminate against children with disabilities. To qualify for a 504 plan, a student must meet certain eligibility requirements.
How to Create a 504 Plan, and When to Start
If you think your child qualifies for a 504 plan, your first step is to contact your child’s school building principal in writing to request a meeting. Families should start thinking about 504 plans in April or May for the following school year. School staff members that facilitate the 504 plans may not work during the summer months. Also, the weeks leading up to the start a new school year can be hectic. Processes and procedures should be in place on the first day of school to ensure your child’s safety.
When determining which accommodations you want to put into your child’s plan, it’s important to think about all aspects of a school year. Below are a couple examples regarding accommodations for food allergies:
- Field Trips: Allow one parent to accompany the child on field trips, make sure epinephrine pens (epi pens) are carried while away from school, and discuss food options if away over lunch.
- Lunch/Snack: Allergen-free classroom, sitting near a teacher and at the end of the table, wiping down spot again every time with Clorox wipe, and everyone washing hands after eating.
- Picture: Provide a picture of child near teacher’s desk or in all substitute teacher materials, so the teacher is familiar with your child.
- Training: All staff (including special teachers, recess aids, etc.) should be trained by the school nurse on epi pen use.
504 Plan vs. Individualized Health Care Plan
Some families choose to implement an Individualized Health Care Plan (IHCP) for food allergies instead of a 504 plan; others choose to do both. Utilizing an IHCP will allow you to outline your child’s medications, symptoms, and emergency plan among other items. The largest difference between the two plans is a 504 plan is legally binding and an IHCP is not. Every family needs to decide what is best for their student. This will depend on their level of comfort and the child’s food allergy severity.
504 plans are an imperative part of the school year for many kids. If your child needs a 504 plan, I hope this information serves as a guide to help you through the process. Get started before the start of a new school year to ensure you and your child have the best school experience possible. For further information or assistance creating a 504 plan, you can visit the Michigan Alliance for Families.