Having a child with severe food allergies is scary. They face risks that don’t register as a concern for other parents and children, especially in a school environment. As a parent, having the right communications and legal framework in place can help keep your child safe.
A 504 plan is a legal document that falls under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which states accommodations must be made for children with disabilities. A severe food allergy falls under this classification.
Here’s what you need to know about drafting a 504 plan for your food allergy child.
Between the meetings, back-and-forth, consultations, and bureaucracy, it can take months to get a formal 504 plan put in place for your child. Waiting until the week before school starts isn’t an option.
Start getting the information you need and putting a 504 plan together early in the calendar year. This timeline generally gives you at least six months to get familiar with the process and the people involved. It will also give you plenty of buffer time for the inevitable delays that occur when dealing with legal matters. Keep in mind that 504 plans often expire each year; starting in January ensures you’re ready to go when the new school year starts.
Call the District 504 Coordinator
One of the first steps in drafting a 504 plan is determining your child’s eligibility. Each state and school district have different interpretations of the definition of an allergy or disability, which is defined as an impairment that limits at least one major life activity.
If your child has an allergy that requires hospitalization when they come in contact with the food, they’re likely eligible. Children who experience discomfort or have non-life-threatening reactions may not be. In the latter case, your child could benefit from an Individual Health Care Plan, which follows a similar structure without the same legal implications.
Another consideration will be your child’s age and self-awareness. The degree to which they can advocate for themselves is a factor. For example, your kindergartener and highschooler would have different capabilities in understanding their allergy and avoiding triggers.
Talk to the School
Once you’ve spoken with the District 504 Coordinator, reach out to the school, and make contact. Chances are, there have been other children with similar concerns. It can be comforting to get to know the people who will be on your child’s team and discuss what they’ve done for other children in the past.
You will inevitably cross paths with the school during the 504 plan drafting process. However, being proactive and getting familiar with the school staff can help open lines of communication and start your relationship on the right foot.
Consult Your Pediatrician
Your child’s pediatrician or allergist will need to sign off on documentation indicating the severeness of your child’s allergy. This authorization is often required for students to carry medication, which is a must when food allergies are at play.
It can also be beneficial to meet with your pediatrician before contacting the District 504 coordinator when your child first starts school. They’ll be able to provide valuable insights about the best course of action and the road ahead.
During the 504 plan drafting process, you must document everything. Keep a journal for this purpose, and note the dates, times, names, and subject matter related to each conversation you have. Some districts and schools will require written requests to move the process along— keep copies of the correspondence for yourself.
It’s also integral to document everything regarding the care of your child. Outline who is responsible for what, and account for scheduling changes as well— for example, school field trips. Ensure that everyone who comes in contact with your child in a professional role has a copy of your 504 plan.
Don’t hesitate to contact other parents in your area who have gone through the process before. They’ll be able to provide specific feedback about your region.