Keeping Kids Safe at School: A 504 Plan Primer

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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.

Keeping Kids Safe at School: A 504 Plan PrimerSo, what’s a parent to do, with all of the possibilities of dangerous or exclusive activities that may occur at school?

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.

Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

13 Comments to Keeping Kids Safe at School: A 504 Plan Primer

  1. Heidi Krone

    Just wanted to add that a 504 plan will follow your child to college. In case you didnt realize that the other plans drop off atthe wmd of their senior yr in high school. It is not easy to get a 504 and the school system hates having to do it, however take stand and make waves and keep your child safe. Technically asthma and diabetes also falls under 504, a bit harder for asthmatic patient then anyother patient. It is a ling process and just because a dr writes it up shool systems balk but push through be firm and nice and you too will get it accomplished.

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks, Heidi!

  2. Scary stuff, Tiffany! It makes me so sad to think of kids having to sit in the office because they can’t be around their own class. :(

  3. Katie Hager

    Please amend this article with the correct provisions for a 504 Plan. 504’s are not a part of the American’s with Disabilities Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Individualized Education Plans are included which are for only 13 listed educational disabilities (disabilities that impact a child’s ability to learn). Section 504 is from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 a civil rights law that ensures children with food allergies are not discriminated against due to their allergy.

    • Tiffany Self

      Thanks, Katie–appreciate your note. I’ve made the update!

  4. Tiffany, I’m so glad you write about this. I think it’s really important that people recognize that food allergies are not some sort of new food trend (like to eating paleo or gluten-free as a lifestyle choice). When the solution for a school is to isolate a food-allergic child at lunchtime or host an ice cream social that he cannot attend, it really makes me think that awareness needs to spread for the sake of all food-allergic children. We offer solutions and inclusion for children with physical challenges, children with autism, children with various other disabilities, and I’m grateful for that. That kind of love and acceptance needs to be extended to kids with food allergies, as well.

    • Tiffany

      Thanks, Roo. Your points are spot on. We’ll keep doing what we do to advocate for that.

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