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Food Allergies and Special Dietary Needs in School

When a student has food allergies or special dietary needs, schools may be legally obligated to provide accommodations. When a student has special dietary needs, she may qualify for a 504 plan. Likewise, a student who has a life threatening allergy to certain food ingredients may also qualify for a 504 plan. The “504″ refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

To qualify for a 504 plan, a physician must first sign a statement (1) identifying the student’s disability or health need, (2) an explanation why the student has a dietary need or allergy, (3) an explanation how the disability or health need constitutes a major life activity, and (4) an explanation what the school can do to address the matter. The next step will be to share this information with school personnel and schedule a meeting to develop a 504 plan.

What types of 504 accommodations might be available to students who have special dietary needs or food allergies? Consider these examples:

  • Diabetes
    • Schools may be obligated to hire a certified school nurse or RN in the building when there are diabetic students in schools.
    • School staff may be required to ensure that a student with diabetes eat snacks throughout the day.
    • School staff may be required to know where insulin and hypoglycemia supplies are stored.
    • School staff may be required to monitor glucose levels.
  • Cystic Fibrosis
    • Students with cystic fibrosis may require additional calories, and the school may be required to provide either larger food portions or a high calorie diet.
  • Allergies
    • A student is allergic to a specific food ingredient. The school nutrition staff may be required to make food substitution or modifications.
    • The school nurse may be required to be trained to give epinephrine to alleviate allergic reactions.
  • Feeding difficulties
    • A student cannot chew solids and must consume liquid diets. The school nutrition staff may be required to provide a liquid diet.
    • School staff may be required to hire a qualified person to assist a student who feeds through a tube.
    • School staff may be required to assist a student who is unable to feed herself.

The United States Department of Agriculture has an excellent primer titled “Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs.” The entire 59 page manual is available here. (If you want even more information beyond the USDA’s primer, check out this 200 page course manual.) The USDA also has published other resources here.

Guidance to developing a 504 plan for food allergies may be found here. A sample 504 plan for students with diabetes may be found here and there. The American Celiac Disease Alliance has a model 504 plan for students with celiac disease.

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