Back to school is a busy time with buying school supplies, sports physicals, teacher meetings, open houses, clothes shopping and more. But if you’re the parent of an allergy child you have additional tasks; trips to the allergist, putting together an allergy action plan, meetings with the school nurse and teachers, prepping EpiPens, Benadryl and inhalers … not to mention the day-to-day worry about your child’s safety in school.
While being an allergy mom is never easy, there is one thing that can help ensure a safer school year for your child. A 504 plan.
What is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is a written management plan you create, in conjunction with the school, that addresses how the school will accommodate the needs of your child. The plan also ensures your child will be able to participate safely in daily classroom and school activities. (This plan is covered under the American with Disabilities Act, so you have a legal right to have a 504 plan).
There are a variety of different accommodations that can be included in your 504 plan. What you include really depends on the needs of your child. Some children have mild food allergies and don’t require as many accommodations while others have life-threatening allergies and will require extra accommodations. My son’s food allergies are life-threatening so I wanted to ensure his 504 plan was very detailed. Below are some of the accommodations in his 504 plan.
- Allergen free classroom – no foods containing his allergens or foods manufactured in a facility that processes those allergens, can be brought into the classroom.
- One set of EpiPens kept in the classroom and one in the nurse’s office. Benadryl and inhaler also kept in the nurse’s office.
- All students and teachers must wash their hands upon entering the classroom each morning and after snacks and lunch.
- Teacher (and teacher aide) must be trained on how to use an EpiPen and how to administer inhaler.
- Child will sit at an allergy free lunch table. This lunch table will be cleaned with a different cloth than is used to clean the “regular” lunch tables, so as to avoid cross contamination.
- The class will not do arts/crafts or science projects or celebrations that include using any of the student’s allergens.
- Classroom birthday celebrations – students parents must be notified ahead of time about birthday celebrations in order to ensure any food brought into the classroom is allergen free.
- Field trips – EpiPen and all meds be brought on all field trips.
- Classroom tables wiped down during the day as needed after snacks.
- Allow the students parents to send home a letter to parents of other children in the class explaining why classroom needs to be allergen free.
- Parent will provide the teacher with a list of allergy-free snacks that will be allowed in the classroom.
- Allergy Action Plan – steps to be taken if an allergic reaction occurs.
How to create a 504 plan
Now that you know what a 504 plan is, it’s time to create one.
The first thing to do is figure out what accommodations you would like to have. This will help you when you go to your 504 meeting. Just remember that you can change the accommodations at any time. But having an idea of what you want ahead of time will make your meeting go more smoothly.
Next, contact the 504 plan coordinator for your child’s school and set up a meeting. Your meeting may include the 504 plan coordinator, as well as the school nurse, psychologist, and counselor. It all depends on how the school operates. The 504 plan coordinator will tell you what you need to bring to the meeting, but be prepared to have any necessary medical forms and information from your child’s pediatrician and allergist with you.
At your meeting you’ll be able to go over the accommodations and can learn how the school handles food allergies. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and advocate for your child! Some schools try to do a “health plan,” which only includes actions that would be taken if an allergic reaction occurs.
While it is important to have an allergy action plan, you also have a legal right to special accommodations for your child. So make sure to stand up for yourself and your child and push for the 504 and then include the allergy action plan as part of the plan (if you experience difficulty with your school in setting up a 504 plan, be sure to contact FARE or the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights).
Once your 504 plan is created, you’ll want to meet with your child’s teacher and teacher assistant (if applicable) to go over the plan with them and make sure they understand the expectations for the year. You may also speak with the teacher about addressing the other parents in the class. My son’s teacher suggested I speak with the parents at open house. I will also be writing them a letter explaining the importance of an allergy free classroom in order to protect my son.
I have found that while other parents try to understand the situation, they can’t fully understand unless they’ve been there. That’s why taking the time to explain to them really helps. And while you may worry about how the other parents will react and that you’ll be labeled as “that mom,” just remember that everything you’re doing is to protect your child and ensure a safe environment for them.
I have been pleasantly surprised these past two years of preschool in how understanding all the other classroom parents have been. There have not been any complaints or grumbling because the classroom had to be tree nut, sesame, and shellfish free. So, don’t be afraid to speak up. As long as you keep the lines of communication open, you have nothing to fear.
Here’s to a safe and fun school year!