How to have Safe Food at School -
You’ve finally gotten a handle on how to deal with your child’s gluten-free diet at
home, just in time to send them off to a school that may or may not have heard of celiac disease. What do you do? Lunches, snacks and classroom activities all pose problems. While at first glance it seems overwhelming to struggle through an
endless to-do list before the start of class, don’t panic; if you approach the issue one step at a time, you will feel great about school in a hurry.
Should you always pack a lunch? Can the cafeteria be counted on to provide a safe meal? Are schools even receptive to assisting children with dietary restrictions?
First of all, the most important thing you can do is talk with your child. By helping
them understand what they can and can’t have, you are setting them up to manage and control their own diet in a responsible way. It’s impossible for you to be an ever-present watchdog, but it’s not impossible to teach your children everything they
need to know. This can be a tough and complex issue, but have faith – arming them with knowledge is a wonderful gift.
Next, it’s important to understand that the United States government requires
schools to accommodate children with celiac disease. This is not a suggestion or recommendation but a law. The specifics mandate that under the U.S. Department
of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Guidance on Children with Special Dietary Needs, schools must offer adequate substitutions for all students with food allergies and intolerances that qualify under their guidelines. Celiac disease qualifies under their guidelines. Why does it qualify? Two important pieces of legislation, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, are
relevant to the discussion.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability as related to Federal programs. Section 504 specifically states that an individual with a disability may not be excluded from a program that receives Federal funding. The American with Disabilities Act of 1990 lays out a lot of the definitions in terms of disabilities and what is included. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who:
1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; AND
2. Has a record of such an impairment OR is regarded as having such an impairment.
Therefore, celiac disease qualifies. However, it’s important to note that these definitions are backed up with lots of legal requirements, which is why specific steps must be followed in getting your school to comply.
Thankfully, though, if you follow those steps, public school systems must comply, or they risk losing their Federal funding.
Setting up a 504
To be eligible for meal substitutions, you need to set up a 504 plan. Every school district has different requirements, so the first step is to contact the school district and get all the necessary forms.
After you have the paperwork, there are three basic steps: filling out the forms, getting a note from your doctor that certifies that your child has celiac disease and setting up a meeting with the school to go over the documentation and discuss the plan. Once you let the school know that your child qualifies for a 504 plan, they are required to review the physician’s documentation, identify a team of school officials that will ensure your child’s safety (including teachers, nurses, administrators and cafeteria staff) and notify all personnel who interact with your child.
Just to be clear, this isn’t a simple process where you can snap your fingers and have the plan in place. There are lots of steps and it may be frustrating, but it can be done. Remember that the best way to guarantee that the school knows what to expect is to take the initiative. Call your school district first to make sure you know exactly what forms and requirements are needed before you begin. Prepare a summary on celiac disease and gluten-free diets (making it easier for your doctor) and take it with you to a doctor’s appointment so your physician can sign it. Next, you should call the school and set up a meeting with appropriate contacts, which should include administrators, primary teachers and the director of the cafeteria or food services. Make sure to discuss what celiac disease is, how it affects your child, what foods are off- limits, how to prevent contamination between foods, symptoms of gluten intake and what to do if a reaction to gluten occurs.
1. Get the 504 forms from your school district
2. Write a short summary on celiac disease, including what foods are and aren’t safe
3. Have a doctor review your summary in addition to certifying that your child has celiac disease
4. Call your school and set up an appointment
5. Meet with the necessary school officials, review 504 plan and discuss celiac disease in-depth
6. Follow-up to check on the status of the plan