An allergy and EOE mom’s advice on how she’s navigated the 504 process for her son with multiple food allergies. Her exact 504 plan accommodations are listed to give you an idea of what to ask for, and to give you a starting place to build out your own 504 plan.
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We recently moved, which meant my son has to start all over at a new school. While that alone can be an unnerving process, it’s extra anxiety inducing because as an allergy mom, you now have to worry about training a new teacher on how to handle food allergies, educating and setting up processes to keep your allergic child safe while they’re out of your care. The best way to do that is through a 504 plan.
I was talking about attending my 504 meeting at my son’s school when I got a lot of direct messages about 504 plans–so naturally we decided to do our following live allergy-life Q&A all about 504 plans. (We do those every Monday at 9 pm Mountain Time–join us!) It was a fantastic live with thoughtful questions, helpful examples from other allergy parents and was just all around great. I seriously can’t tell you enough that these lives, where we get to interact and hear FROM YOU, are one of my absolute favorite parts of blogging. I’ll link to the live replay. It’s about an hour long, and really in depth and has some great pointers. Be sure to watch! Plus you get to enjoy looking at my ghostly white knees the whole time since we haven’t figured out the best spot to do a live from in our new house! Yay you! (Seriously–why is it so hard to find a screen shot!)
I’ve tried to include official definitions, as well as the way I’ve learned and see how things work. If you’d like more official clarification, at the bottom of the post I included other resources.
What is a 504 plan? And, can you get a 504 plan for food allergies?
If you’re new to 504 plans, I love this definition from understood.org: “504 plans are formal plans that schools develop to give kids with disabilities the supports they need. These plans prevent discrimination and protect the rights of kids with disabilities in school. They’re covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is a civil rights law.”
Now, I know some of you might wonder if food allergies fall under “disabilities” and in this instance, they do! I’ve heard moms ask things like: “Well, we just have one food allergy, so do we need one?” My answer to that is always yes! To me, I see it as a legal, binding document that holds the school accountable for the way they will safeguard my child. I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t want that. It also allows you, if heaven forbid something happen that harms your child, to have some recourse if they have broken their end of the deal.
My understanding is that a 504 plan is a national document, and that any school who receives any type of federal funding can do a 504 plan.
We fill one out every year, and then have a sit down meeting with the school principle, school nurse and the teacher to assess if there need to be changes or updates depending on my son’s medical history that year, his level of maturity and any other changes that happen as kids grow. I plan to do one all of the way until college.
I’ve also heard that parents are nervous if their child goes to a charter or private school. I’ve heard that even those schools often receive funding–it’s just not as obvious, but that they often receive grants and other aid and governmental donations for their school, which then qualifies them.
How do I get a 504 plan?
I have simply called the school and asked to schedule a 504 meeting with the principle, that I am self referring, and asked that when I come he/she include the teacher and school nurse and to let me know when that availability is. I let them deal with coordinating between all of them.
However, many places require the request in writing–and it is ALWAYS good to have everything in writing. That way, if your requests are denied you have a paper trail showing your pursuit of getting a meeting.
Documentation for food allergies 504 plans
Recognize that for us, we have had to have our allergist fill out forms. so be prepared to be able to get these from your allergist. They’re usually simple forms that have the allergist state what their allergies are, and if the allergist feels they can self carry and/or self administer their medications. It also usually includes an emergency action plan. Be sure to discuss with your allergist what you’d like filled out. For example, our allergist had said he was fine with the epi-pen being kept in the nurse’s office. I was not, since the nurse only works part-time at the school. So, I had him re-fill it out stating that it could be in my son’s backpack at all times, so it can always be close by and easily accessed, in case the nurse’s office is ever locked when she’s out.
I’m nervous for the 504 meeting. How do I set myself up for success?
That is understandable! Recognize that most teachers want to keep the students safe too. It can feel overwhelming to advocate for your child, but from a formerly shy person who hated feeling like they were “asking too much” or didn’t want to be “that parent”…that it can be done with grace. I had to realize and understand the difference between being brazen and being assertive–I used to think they were one in the same and they are not. I had to give myself permission to be firm and to be OK with saying no. Some people have that similar personality. Perhaps, you’re the opposite and you feel it’s easier to come out swinging. Either way–I think it’s helpful to make sure you are centered and calm before the meeting and find a happy medium whether that’s pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, or trying to stay cool. Take a few minutes before the meeting for some deep breathing, or calling a confidant to role play–make sure you’re in a good state of mind before you go in.
I’ve also found it fun and a lighter way to start the meeting by bringing in my son’s safe chocolate for everyone to have and enjoy while we go over it. The meeting doesn’t have to be painful. I think by stating that you want open communication, you’re here to help and that it’s a win-win for everyone if your child is safe is a great place to start form.
One book that I HIGHLY recommend is a book called “Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high” which can really help you learn how to handle these sometimes stressful meetings.
Remember–you can do it! And, no meeting is set in stone. If you walk away uncomfortable, you can always think on it and then ask to revisit or amend it. At the end of the day, you should feel safe and secure knowing your child is able to be taken care of. And, if you feel the school isn’t listening and it’s really not getting to where you need it to go–that’s the beauty of it being under the disabilities act. You can always ask for your district 504 coordinator to attend the meeting. This is someone who is over 504’s, is used to knowing how they should be run and can be a good 3rd party to make sure things are going as they should.
What should be the school’s responsibilities and accommodations for food allergies?
In the official form, it is broken down into three areas: school responsibilities. parent involvement, and student responsibility. Obviously the younger the student, the more that is on the school. It will obviously change as the student gets older and more mature.
Here is what we have down for our 504 plan for food allergies under the school’s responsibilities and accommodations:
- Soap and water hand washing for all students at the beginning of class. Also, soap and water hand washing for all students after lunch.
- Epi-pens and asthma inhaler will be carried by teacher, trained staff or Carter (in his backpack) when leaving the classroom for an extended period such as field trips. They will stay in his backpack, in the classroom otherwise.
- Teacher and specialty teachers will be Epi-pen trained. Megan will be notified when this is done.
- All subs and specialty teachers will be notified of the 504 plan and accommodations.
- If Carter is feeling unwell, an adult must accompany him to the bathroom or office.
- Only an adult can administer the Epi-pen.
- Megan will receive a phone call 24 hours in advance if food will be served so she will have time to find a safe replacement.
- If unsafe birthday treats are served, Carter will be given one of his safe treats and hand washing will happen for all students after eating.
- If food is sent home, Megan will be notified by phone or in person that he has food in his possession so she can check the label.
- If his safe treat bag runs out, Megan will be notified so she can refill it.
- If there are crafts/activities that involve handling of food items that he is allergic to, Megan will be given 24 hour notice to provide a safe replacement activity.
- Megan will be given opportunity to participate in class parties and food functions.
- If food is served in class, all tables will be wiped down with a bleach wet wipe.
Parent 504 responsibilities:
- I will cooperate and communicate with my student, administration and school personnel.
- I will communicate any changes in the student’s condition.
- I will provided the needed medication, medical supplies and snacks.
Student 504 responsibilities and self-management strategies:
- Will cooperate, and communicate with parents, administration and school personnel.
- Will advocate for self.
- Student will ask teachers when he/she needs additional time or help.
What is my child’s food allergies are so severe the allergen can’t be in the classroom at all?
I’ve had friends whose children are so severely allergic that they cannot even have the allergen in the classroom. They have found work arounds. That is the entire point of the 504 meeting is to figure out how to make the classroom safe for your child. There really is no right or wrong answer. It’s finding an accommodation that the teacher is able to manage that will ensure your child’s safety. For example, my friend’s whose daughter cannot have dairy in the classroom at all, it is banned completely and it not allowed, not even for other children.
Be sure of what levels of security your child needs and start there. Work backwards and I think you’ll find that you can come up with ideas. I’ve seen very allergic children be safe and well cared for–but it’s taken a lot of communication and work on both the parents and school’s part.
Talk to other allergy moms
I thought I had thought of everything, but by talking to other allergy moms, I realized that I did not have the part where it states “he cannot go to the bathroom or office alone if he is feeling unwell.” I had never thought of that, but my friend reminded me that if he were to go to the bathroom alone, and then pass out, the teacher might just think he was taking a long time and that he would need eyes on him to monitor how fast he was going down hill.
Also, I realized when talking to others that I wanted a call or in person requirement for some, as I didn’t want to have an email get unnoticed.
Other allergy moms can help you think of things you might not have, as there are lots of faucets to school–field trips, parties, lunch, rewards…etc.
What is the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?
My son has had both, and the difference in my layman’s terms is that the IEP is to help with educational strategies to help where your child is lacking. For example, my son had a stutter, so he needed interventions to help bring him up to grade level with his speech. The IEP had goals that they could measure as well as strategies that they would do to pass off those goals.
Whereas, a 504 plan is how your child’s disabilities will be managed and what safe guards will be in place to make sure they are taken care of during the school day.
You can have both, and my son has had both.
What is the difference between a health plan and a 504 plan?
When I attended a 504 training meeting, they explained it like this: a 504 plan is the legal document outlining what strategies will be implemented and a health plan is what to do if your child needs health care. I see it as what we will do to avoid a reaction in the 504, and the health plan is what meds to administer and how to physically take care of health care needs when they arise. You can have both, but I would not let someone say you only need a health care plan, because as I understand it, a health care plan is not as official as a 504 plan.
Put EVERYTHING in writing.
For your sake make notes of everything! Write who was at the meeting, take notes during the meeting. Keep all sent emails. You never know when you’ll wish you had. You would hate to have something come up down the road and for it to be your word against theirs.
Where can I learn more?
I know that with every school year that goes by and every 504 plan I put in place, and every teacher I meet that I am constantly learning more. If you still feel like you have some questions and want to study up before you start your own 504 plan, here are some great resources:
One more tip!
We have a family member and my best friend was an elementary teacher, I understand how much is on their plates. Since the first of the school year can be quite a process, we try to do things to help his food allergies stick out to help remind them.
Best of luck!
I wish you and your student peace of mind and a very safe and happy learning environment. We have had teachers who at first seemed timid, scared and overwhelmed who then end up becoming in love with our son and sad to see him go. He has 10 anaphylaxic foods and 20 foods he avoids for his EOE and asthma as well. It can be done!
If I’ve left anything out that you feel could be helpful, please leave it in the comments.
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Do you need more help?
Here’s the list we give of allergy-friendly candy for school treats and rewards.
Here’s a list of allergy-friendly snacks we give to schools, teachers, family and friends.
Here’s an e-book with 14 top-8-free dinner ideas.
Here’s a list of ways to make trick-or-treating more safe for food allergy kids