1. Research the School and the District. Find out if the district has a food allergy management policy or guidelines. Additionally, check your state Department of Education for any policies.
2. Complete Required Forms. Have your allergist complete an Allergy Action Plan (AAP), sometimes referred to as a "Food Allergy Action Plan" (FAAP) that will include detailed instructions on how to recognize and treat mild and severe allergic reactions. This form includes a list of allergies, symptoms, dosages, and medications as well as emergency protocol for the student.
3. Develop the Plans.
--The Individual Health Care Plans (IHCP), sometimes referred to as a Health Care Plan (HCP), documents the accommodations that will keep the allergic child safe in the school setting.
--A 504 Plan documents accommodation that addresses equal access to education.This plan is developed to level the educational playing field so that the food allergic child can access education as their non-disabled peers. Accommodations will outline the individual needs of the student.
--The USDA Physician's Statement for Students with Special Dietary Needs* provides non-discriminatory regulations and regulates the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. It mandates substitutions to the regular meal for children who are unable to eat school meals because of their disabilities.
4. Schedule Meetings. You may have several meetings in the course of developing a comprehensive plan for your child's safety and inclusion. One of the first meetings may be where you work to develop the plan and another to review it with staff. Some schools will require a separate meeting to determine 504 eligibility before proceeding with accommodations.
It's best to set up a meeting to develop the IHCP and 504 plans in the spring, well before the start of the new school year. Request a meeting via email so that you have documentation of when your request occurred. It may be helpful to send the request to the Principal of the school and copy the Assistant Principal and School Nurse. Remember, these meetings are a process. If you are unsure of accommodations suggested by the school, you may take the time to confer with your allergist or any other specialists.
After the plan has been finalized, a meeting with the staff should occur a few weeks before school starts. Your attendance in this meeting is important as you can field specific questions about your child's allergies. Remember, you are the expert on your child.
* USDA Physician's Statement for Students with Special Dietary Needs http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/ guidance/special_dietary_needs.pdf
5. Review Your Plan. Every year the plans will need to be reviewed. For example, If new allergies have been diagnosed, this is the time to address them. In addition, a new school year in a different grade may present different challenges than the previous year. The higher grade levels may do certain projects or take part in activities that could be a risk for a food allergic student.
The 504 Plan requires schools, which receive federal funding, to provide equal access to education. Private schools (and day cares) are required to provide only reasonable modification under the American's with Disabilities Act Title III. In a public school setting, students with disabilities must participate with non-disabled students in both academic and non-academic services, including meals, recess, and physical education, to the maximum extent appropriate to their individual needs.
6. Negotiate Accommodations. Accommodations are procedures that are put in place so that the allergic child can be safe and included in classroom activities. Accommodations must address every environment that your child will encounter.
Develop a list of proposed accommodations prior to the IHCP/504 plan meeting. If you plan to share this list, be sure to have enough copies for everyone in attendance.
The following are a few topics for discussion:
-- Food free classrooms keep the classroom free from cross-contamination and carry the least risk for a potential allergic reaction.
--Notifying parents of food allergic students 3-5 business days prior to food being
brought into the classroom for use during parties or as manipulatives. This will allow parents enough time to research the food(s), call manufacturers during their open business hours if necessary to determine safety, and suggest alternatives.
--Omit allergens in the classroom. This would include not only snacks, treats, and food rewards but also products (soaps, wipes, art supplies etc). Ideally you would review these prior to the start of the school year. Your child's teacher may be able to swap out unsafe products (wipes etc) with another class.
--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 the non-disabled students.
--Location of EpiPensŪ (epinephrine auto-injectors). Determine if your child will self carry or if the teacher will carry it in the emergency pack from class to class in addition to storing a set in the clinic or nurses office.
Field Trips - Parents must be notified early in the planning stages, prior to the field trip being finalized, about the location of the field trip to address any concerns for allergen exposure. For example, it would not make much sense to visit a dairy factory if students have dairy allergies, nor would it be an inclusive trip for the student with dairy allergies. Remember, the basis of the 504 plan is to be sure that students with disabilities have equal access as their non-disabled peers.
Although schools handle chaperones in many different ways, it is very important that the allergic child is in the care of an adult who is trained to avoid, recognize and treat allergic reactions during field trips.
Bus Transportation - Discuss where your child will sit during transportation. Depending on your child's age, it may be best to arrange to have your child sit towards the front, closer to the driver. If your child will have a trained staff member/aide accompany him/her during transportation, the child may be free to sit anywhere so long as the aide is close by. Either a bus driver or an aide, trained on how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction, must accompany the child on the bus.
A firm "no eating on the bus" policy must be communicated and enforced. Discuss where the Epipen will be stored. In many cases, the child self-carries the EpiPen and the driver will be notified as to the location of the Epipen. (Usually in the child's backpack).
Substitute bus drivers and substitute aides will need to have the same training as regular bus drivers. You may request that the same substitute be used for your child's bus, if available. This way both the substitute driver and your child are familiar with each other.
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 while providing the least restrictive environment to these students.
Depending on your child's age, he/she may sit with at the classroom table with a student buffer between those eating the allergens and your child. In some schools, the allergic child sits at the end of the classroom table to reduce the chance of exposure to food allergens without completely isolating the child.
If your child will eat cafeteria food, submit he USDA Physician's Statement for Students with Special Dietary Needs. You will need to do this prior to the school year. It's best to meet with the Food Services manager and discuss safe options. Request a list of manufacturers of the foods offered at your child's school. This will allow you to research foods for safety. Providing a list of safe foods to Food Services is ideal. If there are no "safe foods" for your child, a substitution may be made at no cost to you. This form is especially important to allergic students accessing the free and reduced lunch program.
Discuss procedures if your child's packed lunch spoils, gets lost, stolen etc. Submitting the USDA Physician's Statement for Students with Special Dietary Needs is a great back up plan.
7. Document and Double Check There will be times where you will need to meet again to address concerns that you could not foresee. Even after everyone has signed on the dotted lines, mistakes may happen. It's often best to direct well-meaning teachers back to the original IHCP, 504 (or other written accommodation plan) when they want go around what has been agreed upon. Often teachers forget that even teens and tweens long to be included and need to be kept safe.