What is a 504 Plan?
The U.S. Department of Education describes a 504 plan as follows: Section 504 is a Federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance. All public schools and school districts, as well as all public charter schools and magnet schools, that receive Federal financial assistance from the Department must comply with Section 504. Section 504 provides a broad spectrum of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability. For example, all qualified elementary and secondary public school students who meet the definition of an individual with a disability under Section 504 are entitled to receive regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet their individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met. Section 504 also requires, among other things, that a student with a disability receive an equal opportunity to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities, and to be free from bullying and harassment based on disability.
Who Qualifies for a 504 Plan?
Under Section 504, an individual with a disability (also referred to as a student with a disability in the elementary and secondary education context) is defined as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; (2) has a record of such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
The determination of whether a student has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (and therefore has a disability) must be made on a case by case basis. In addition, when determining if someone meets the definition of a disability, the definition must be understood to provide broad coverage of individuals.
How Does This Relate to Food Allergies?
Therefore, when determining whether a student with a health concern has a disability, the school district must evaluate whether the health concern (for example, a tree nut allergy or diabetes) would be substantially limiting without considering the beneficial effects (amelioration) of medication or other measures. For many children with a peanut allergy, for example, the allergy, when active, is likely to substantially limit the major life activities of breathing and respiratory function, and therefore, the child would have a disability. If, because of an allergy or other health concern the student has a disability and may reasonably be believed to need special education or related aids or services, the student has a right to an evaluation under Section 504.
All of the above information was taken from the US Department of Education’s Parent and Educator Resource Guide to Section 504 in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools. Click here to access the full document.
How Do I Request a 504 Plan?
Usually a call to your district's ADA (American's with Disabilities) Coordinator is a good place to start. Request a meeting to determine 504 eligibility. Before the meeting, put together an agenda with a list of items you’d like to discuss. Click here for a sample agenda created by Emily Sorenson when her son was going to preschool for the first time. Be sure to customize your plan to cover the following items:
- Who is trained and authorized to administer epinephrine?
- Where will epinephrine be kept?
- How will your child be kept safe during meals and snacks?
- How will art supplies be handled?
- Is food ever allowed in the classroom?
- If your child is sick, request they never be sent to the nurse’s office alone. Someone should accompany them to make sure they arrive safely.
- Will epinephrine be available on the school bus and at after school activities?
- Will food ever be offered as a reward?
- How will food allergy bullying be addressed/resolved?
- The ADA coordinator may also ask you to provide reaction history and a list of accommodations made at home and outside of the home. This is designed to help make a case for 504 eligibility.