What Every Parent Needs to Know About Section 504 Plans

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).

FARE recommends that parents of children with a food allergy create, in collaboration with their school, a written food allergy management plan. One type of plan is called a 504 Plan.

What is a 504 plan?
Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that was designed to protect
the rights of individuals with physical or mental impairments in programs that receive federal assistance. This includes public or private schools that receive federal funding. Parents of children with food allergies may refer to a “504 Plan” as the accommodation plan that allows safe and inclusive access to activities at school.

What are some examples of accommodations?
Examples of common accommodations include:

  • Allergens are restricted from the classroom
  • Teacher and bus driver are trained to recognize and treat a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Food is not used for rewards, crafts or in treat bags
  • Birthdays are celebrated with nonedible treats
  • Hands are washed (or hand wipes are used) before and after meals and snacks

Does a 504 plan mean my child is disabled? I don’t want my child to be labeled.
“Disability” is a loaded term. Remember, it is only a word. Dis-able means unable and the truth is that many of our children are unable to eat or, in some cases, come into contact with food or food residue without risk of a life-threatening reaction.

Is an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP or IHP) a substitute for a 504 plan?
No. If a student has a health or mental health impairment that is considered a disability and needs aids or services (for example: special seating at lunch, a teacher who is trained to recognize anaphylaxis), then the child should be evaluated for a 504 Plan.

What about extracurricular activities at school? Does Section 504 apply?
Yes. Section 504 (Subpart D) ensures that students with disabilities have an
equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. Section 504 regulations (34 CFR 104.37(a)(1) require access to extracurricular activities in “such a manner as is necessary to afford students with a disability an equal opportunity for participation in such services and activities.”

My son’s school celebrates with food almost every week. They asked me to send in a “safe treat box” so I did. my son came home many times this year upset about being excluded from all of the fun ice cream, pizza parties and cupcakes. By the end of the year, he would not eat from his ‘safe treat box’ at all. So he sat there eating nothing while the other kids celebrated. What can help?

In a private setting, it’s appropriate to take on most of the responsibility for your child. For example, at your neighbor’s barbeque, you may need to bring your child’s entire meal. However, at school, your child should not be excluded from activities because of his food allergies. Your child is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The best way to handle these issues is before they arise by agreeing upon what is needed for your child to participate and documenting it in a 504 Plan. When negotiating these plans, the team will decide on how birthdays, holidays and other occasions will be celebrated and how your son can access these activities safely in the least restrictive environment. Many schools (due to wellness, obesity, food allergies, etc.) are moving to food-free celebrations using games and rewards such as extra recess or no-homework passes.

We are all hoping for a cure for food allergies, but until that day comes, our children need accommodations at schools, at restaurants, on airplanes and beyond. Each time we take the time to learn and educate others, we make our dream of a safe and accessible world closer to reality.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of FARE’s Food Allergy News. Read more of the newsletter here.

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