Know Your Food Allergy Rights: U.S. Schools
5. Negotiate accommodations
It’s worth specifying that accommodations must address every environment that your child will encounter. Before the IHCP or 504 Plan meeting, develop a list of proposed accommodations. If you plan to share the list, be sure to have enough copies for everyone in attendance.
6. Review annually
The plans will need to be reviewed and possibly updated. For example, a new school year in a different grade may present new challenges. The higher grade levels may take part in activities that could be a risk for a food-allergic student.
Topics to Discuss with the School:
• Food-free classrooms: These are the preferred option since keeping the classroom free from food significantly reduces the risk of allergen cross-contamination, food sharing (with young pupils) and inadvertent ingestion.
• Auto-injector locations. Determine in discussions whether your child will self-carry or if the teacher will carry it in the emergency pack from class to class. Another set is likely stored in the nurse’s office.
• Food notice: Request three-to-five school days of notification time prior to food being brought into the classroom. This allows parents adequate time to research foods, call manufacturers (if needed), suggest alternatives and discuss the safe food options with their child.
• Unsafe supplies: In the classroom, the school can also eliminate allergen-containing products, such as soaps, wipes and art supplies). Ideally, you review these before the start of the school year. Your child’s teacher may be able to swap out unsafe products with another class.
• Know your rights: You are not required to supply the entire class with safe products. When your child has a 504 Plan, free and appropriate education must be made at no expense to the parents, unless fees are equally imposed on non-disabled students.
• Field trips: Parents of allergic students must be notified in the early planning stages about the location of the field trip to address any concerns for allergen exposure. For example, a visit to a milk-chocolate plant would not be an inclusive trip for the student with a dairy allergy. (The basis of the 504 Plan is to be sure that students with disabilities have equal access with their peers.) It is essential that the allergic child is in the care of an adult who is trained to avoid, recognize and treat allergic reactions during field trips.
• The school bus: Either the bus driver or an aide on the bus needs to be trained on how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction. A firm “no eating on the bus” policy must be communicated and enforced. Discuss where the auto-injector will be kept. In many cases, the child self-carries and the driver will be notified as to the location of the auto-injector. (Most often in the child’s backpack). Substitute bus drivers and aides will need to have the same training. Discuss where a child will sit on the bus. A younger child should sit near the bus driver or an aide.
• Cafeteria: Since there is no such thing as a truly “allergy-free” table, an “allergy-friendly” table may be set up for your child. The school will need to address the different needs of all of the food-allergic students. For example, a peanut-allergic child may sit at a “peanut-free” table, but his peanut-allergic friend may also have a dairy allergy. School administrators need to minimize the risk of accidental exposures to those with multiple food allergies.
Depending on your child’s age, he/she may sit at the classroom table with a “buffer” of students between those eating the allergens and your child. In some schools, the allergic child sits at the end of the table to reduce the chance of exposure to food allergens, without completely isolating the child.
These steps give you ideas to consider as you work with your child’s school on accommodations. Knowing that your child is well cared for physically and emotionally is well worth the effort.
Thanita Glancey, president of the Loudoun Allergy Network, has two children with life-threatening allergies.