A food allergy may be considered a disability under federal laws, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Understanding 504 Plans
What is a 504 plan?
A 504 Plan (named for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) is a plan that outlines the accommodations, aids or services that a student with a disability needs in order to use, and fully participate in, a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
504 Plans are a legal right in schools that receive federal funding, which includes many private schools. Students who go to private schools that do not take federal monies are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and can work with their schools to set up similar plans. Religious schools may be exempt from Section 504, however some state laws apply.
How is disability defined?
A disability is defined as a student who has a physical or mental issue that seriously limits one or more major life activities. Life activities include things like your heart and circulatory system, eating and your digestive system, breathing and your respiratory system, and more. All of these life activities are at risk for a person with a life-threatening food allergy.
Is it possible for my child with food allergies to get special accommodations at school?
In many cases, yes. Students at risk for severe reactions to certain foods often have a disability as defined by the ADA and Section 504. (For more information on the definition of disability, click here.)
These children are entitled to an evaluation for a 504 Plan. If the evaluation finds the student eligible, then appropriate accommodations should be made and designated in a written 504 Plan to make sure the student has access to a free and appropriate public education.
What if my child's school is already cooperating without a 504?
Even if the school is cooperative without a 504 Plan, it may make sense to put one in place as a 504 Plan comes with procedural safeguards .
If my child already has a 504 Plan, is there anything else I need to do?
Yes. While 504 Plans are very helpful, they are not perfect. As the relationships among you, your child, and school personnel develop, you will get a sense for areas that need improvement. Classroom activities and afterschool programs change with every grade, so many parents find it useful to review their child’s 504 Plan with school staff every year.
Your child’s 504 Plan will include accommodations needed so that your child has safe access to all school activities. In addition, make sure that your child’s 504 Plan includes a clear document that explains how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction. Many schools and districts use FARE’s Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan, but some have their own form for this (such as an Emergency Care Plan – ECP).
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends the protections provided by 504 to private schools and private child care centers.
Children with food allergies have received protection under ADA. For example, in a public settlement agreement under the ADA, a private child care facility was ordered to enroll children with food allergies, and to take appropriate steps to assure that the facility was prepared to recognize an allergic reaction, and respond appropriately.
Sometimes, private religious schools are exempt from the ADA. However, this depends on the relationship between a particular religion and the inner workings of the school.
To learn more about the ADA, visit the ADA website.
For more in-depth information and links to the laws discussed, click here.
To download a letter from FARE to school leaders that addresses recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and written accommodations for students, click here.