How to Develop a Section 504 Plan for Your Child with Food Allergies
Posted Sep 30 2008 12:46pm
A Section 504 Plan does NOT have to be drafted by an attorney and is most often developed by families with the input of school administrators. Kathy suggests seeking out as much input from the school as possible, since having their buy-in will make it much easier to enforce compliance later on. As your child's advocate, try to brainstorm all the possible scenarios that could take place during school hours and include those in the plan. The Food Allergy Initiative's outline is a great place to start but make sure to customize it for your needs. Does the school have a full time or part time nurse? Will your child get transported to another facility for activities or special programs? What procedures must be followed for off-campus activities like field trips? What happens during fire drills?
It is common for food allergy parents to send a letter home to other parents in their child's class informing them of the situation and asking them to refrain from sending the offending allergens as snacks. FYI, Kathy says this is usually considered beyond the scope of a 504 Plan and is an extra precaution that parents take on themselves.
Allow adequate time to develop the plan with school administrators. Kathy recommends beginning the process in the spring of the previous school year from when your child will be enrolled. This will give you time to get to know the people with whom you will be working to ensure your child's safety and well-being. Kathy suggests proposing a Section 504 Plan as a tool that is helpful for the school too since it creates a common protocol. In the best instances, the principal/administrator will already have had some experience with 504 plans or even better, 504 plans for food allergies. It doesn't hurt to assume the best! ... "I want to develop a Section 504 Plan for my child with life-threatening food allergies. Can I see what you have done before in similar situations?"
Start your networking at the school. Hey, by the time our kids are entering kindergarten, us food allergy parents are experts at educating caregivers, right? Go in person and start to invest in relationships with people who will directly affect your child's daily experience. Get answers to all your questions... is there a full-time nurse on staff? Is someone trained in food allergy management or in administering an epinephrine auto-injector? Where are meals served/prepared. Yes, don't forget the lunch ladies!!!
If you meet with resistance or a school administrator who has not had any prior experience with food allergies, enlist the help of your allergist. Bring in documentation (like a letter) that explains why your child needs special accommodations. Kathy explains that resistance comes with the territory. School administrators are juggling so many agendas that every unusual circumstance is often perceived as an added burden, which is why approaching the plan as something that will help them is often well received. Tap into your networks to make this as easy and turnkey for them as possible. Check with members of your local support group to see if they have 504 Plans for their kids. Bringing copies as examples may be helpful too. If teachers and staff are in need of food allergy management training, see if you have a local AAFA chapter or other group that will conduct the training. AAFA specifically does this at no cost to the school! Take on the responsibility of drafting the document, with the principal's input of course.
Once all parties are comfortable with the plan and it is finalized, have it signed by you, the principal, and the school nurse or whoever is designated as the first responder in case of an allergic emergency. Kathy suggests Make 3-4 ORIGINALS! (one for school office, one for nurse's office, one in the classroom, and one for you). Also make copies that you can keep with you during school hours (in your office, in your spouse's office, etc.) so that if an incident occurs, it will be accessible.