The American Disabilities Act classifies celiac disease as a disability, and thus allows accommodations in federally-funded programs and services. While you may be hesitant to consider celiac disease a disability, it’s actually a beneficial designation for children heading to school. Public establishments that are federally funded, like schools, must provide appropriate accommodations for those with celiac disease. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, the law requires schools to remove barriers to learning, which includes accommodating a child’s gluten-free diet and disability needs. A 504 plan is an annual legal document between a child/child’s family and the school administration. Now is the time to create a 504 plan and schedule a meeting with the administration. Please note that a 504 plan is for children with documented celiac disease by a physician.
Why is it so important to have a 504 plan? There are many hurdles to a safe learning environment if your child is constantly worried about getting glutened or worried about where he or she can get a safe meal or snack. It’s hard to feel normal around lunch time, snack time, birthday celebrations, field trips, or in art class. A 504 helps solidify a communications plan between parents and the school and helps achieve a sense of normalcy with reasonable accommodations for celiac disease. As an example, you can ask for a head’s up for any birthdays or classroom celebrations so you can provide your own safe treats for your child. Consider freezing cupcakes or other “party” food so you can provide on a moment’s notice.
While the 504 plan will include school administration, make sure the 504 plan involves school teams like the food service director, cafeteria manager, school nurse, teachers, principal, PTA leadership, coaches, classroom aids and lunch moms and dads.
Celiac Disease Foundation outlines what your 504 plan needs to entail. However, every 504 Plan must be adapted to the individual needs, abilities, and medical condition of each individual child. It includes:
- Objective: Talk about why you need a 504 plan, what celiac disease is, and why it is considered a disability. Provide your child’s history with celiac disease. Also describe why a 504 plan is needed for your child, like how it affects major life activity like eating, or working with/around gluten.
- Provisions of Celiac Care: All staff including those that work with celiac disease must receive training in the management and care for those with celiac disease.
- Meals and Snacks: Outline what a gluten-free diet is, where gluten hides, and cross contact. List gluten-free alternatives that should be provided. Identify a system for working with the cafeteria to assure a safe meal is provided. The school should designate a person responsible for providing lunch to the student as well as cleaning the lunch table and surrounding areas. Food and Nutrition Services should provide a monthly gluten-free menu.
- Bathroom Access: Outline why bathroom access is important for someone with celiac disease.
- Art Projects: Discuss the potential issues found in art rooms like play dough or other projects made with flour, and provide a list of alternatives materials available. State that hand washing must be made available.
- Field Trips: Open communication can help determine if you need to provide snacks or meals on any field trips.
- Communications: Discuss open communication plans with the school, including reasonable notices to changes in planned activities. Each teacher, substitute teachers and substitute nurses must be provided instructions for your child’s care. A 504 plan should be renewed or revised every year and discussed with the new teachers.
- Emergencies: A communication plan needs to be in place between parents and the school administration in case of accidental exposure. Emergency contacts will need to be regularly reviewed and updated.
As your child ages, a 504 plan is important as well. In college, work with a school’s disability office to ensure reasonable accommodations, as outlined by federal law. Work with a child’s college for accommodations like allowing a student to have a cook top or fridge in a dorm room. You can also work with the school to make sure you’re not paying for a meal plan your child is not using, or coordinate with the cafeteria to create a safe meal space for your child.
Work hand in hand with your child’s school to create the right 504 plan for your celiac child to assure the best possible future year ahead!