Keeping our kids safe at school is a hot topic these days. Fire drills. Tornado drills. Earthquake drills. Intruder drills.
There is an endless list of things we parents could worry about as those we love the most walk toward their schools and away from us, backpacks sagging near the ground because the bags are almost bigger than the littles that carry them.
For allergy parents, these concerns are on our radar to be sure, but more likely scenarios jump into our heads as we think through how the school year could play out:
A kid eats peanut butter at lunch and then chases an allergic child on the playground taunting, “I ate peanut butter and it’s all over my hands!”
A “friend” asks an allergic child about his or her allergy and promptly wipes the deadly allergen on the child’s arm, face, or leg.
A class earns a pizza party as a reward, and a child with anaphylactic airborne dairy allergy is sent to sit in the nurse’s office during the party while the rest of the class celebrates.
Many families—ours included—have an Individual Health Care Plan (IHCP) with our preferences and accommodation requests submitted to the school nurse and then verbally discussed with each teacher. This has worked for us so far, but as I continue to learn about keeping Z safe at school, I continue to come across a much more ironclad option: a 504 Plan.
An IHCP is fabulous for sharing preferences and requesting accommodations, but a 504 takes the IHCP a few steps further.
The 504 not only allows for accommodations based on the child’s safety, but it also offers allergic children the reassurance of being included in all activities at school. Those of us who’ve had children with food allergies since birth know that being included in everything is a rare and welcome gift.
The 504 process is a much larger undertaking than setting an IHCP in place. It takes about 10 minutes to create an IHCP; a 504 requires multiple meetings, creating precisely detailed documentation, and a *tiny bit* of a blood oath.
A 504 Plan is an option at any school—public or private—that receives federal funding. This is important to note, because the “504” part is actually derived from Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Edit: Section 504 was instated as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The earlier act allowed protections for those attending public institutions, while the ADA extended the protections to those attending private institutions as well.] Yes, the feds recognize severe food allergies as a disability, and Section 504 exists to guarantee that our kiddos receive both the same education as their peers, and that they also receive the same benefits (i.e. inclusion for all, friends!).
So, how do you move forward on starting the process of creating a 504 Plan for your child?
Talk to your allergist about starting the process for the 504 Plan. He or she may already have literature on how to move forward. You may also be asked to submit a letter of medical necessity, so the sooner your allergist knows this documentation may be needed, the better.
Contact your school’s 504 coordinator. This will get the ball rolling and the coordinator will be able to walk you through the painstaking details required to put a plan in place.
As you begin to work on your child’s 504 Plan, think through the school day with the same thoroughness and precision required of Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne. Snacks, recess, lunch, hand washing, supply sharing (even in special classes like art and music), bus rides. All of it.
Educate. Chances are great that your child’s teachers have had an allergic child in their classrooms in the past. But, don’t expect that even if they have, that the allergic children before yours needed the same accommodations. So always approach the teacher, nurse, and administrators with the goal of educating why the accommodations you request are so important. Educating. Non-offensively educating.
Remember the Golden Rule. If you expect opposition from the start, that’s likely what you’ll get. So be positive and treat those you’re working with as if you all are on the same team. Because, guess what? You are. You’re all working together to make your child’s experience at school safe and inclusive.
Do you have a 504 Plan? An IHCP? Share with us what you’ve done, experiences you’ve had in creating your plan, and share your insights on the process, or items you included in your plan.