Raising gluten-free children can be a tough job. A gluten-free diet can already be enough of a headache, requiring major changes in your own kitchen, how you celebrate the holidays, and dining out. Then there’s the matter of school, a whole challenge in itself. Fortunately, the American Celiac Disease Alliance has stepped forward to make eating gluten-free lunches at school easier by providing information on its website, AmericanCeliac.org, regarding 504 plans and the National School Lunch Program, which can accommodate your child’s special dietary needs.
The federal government has provided in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protection from discrimination against the disabled in educational settings. According to the AmericanCeliac.org, “Students with a disability under this Act are afforded accommodations and modifications to their educational program to ensure equal access. Celiac disease may be considered a disability under this law.”
So how do you request a 504 plan for your celiac child? First, you should contact your child’s school and make it known that you’d like an evaluation for your child. AmericanCeliac.org says that saying that you are requesting a 504 evaluation for your child will get the process started. This will be followed by a meeting, which parents don’t have to attend, in order to produce a draft of what the plan will entail. The plan will include not only information about meals, but will also cover emergency contacts and notification, field trips, and activities in the classroom, among other issues. This plan can be reviewed on an annual basis and can be revised if circumstances require it.
AmericanCeliac.org offers a helpful breakdown of what needs to be documented for the purposes of qualifying a celiac child for a special gluten-free lunch program in a 504 plan. These include documentation of the disability with a description of how the disease affects the child’s diet as well as the “major life activity affected,” of which “the ability to learn is most important,” according to AmericanCeliac.org. Next, a list of foods that are eliminated from the child’s diet and a list of acceptable alternatives should also be provided. Demonstrating how the diet affects child in school should be included. Some states have a form specially designed for a doctor to fill out, and other states will require a detailed letter from the doctor. In view of the information provided, whether or not the child should received special gluten-free lunches will be decided upon on an individual basis.
The National School Lunch Program is carried out by the Food Nutrition Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s designed to offer “nutritionally balanced, low-coast or free lunches to children each school day,” according to the Food Nutrition Services department’s website. The program would require similar documentation as required for a 504 plan, and sometimes a 504 plan is also necessary.
For parents who are concerned about having their child labeled as disabled, there’s no need to worry. The American Celiac Disease Alliance assures us that the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) prohibits information regarding disabilities from being included on a student’s transcripts and makes it so this information is only to be accessed by the appropriate school staff.
School shouldn’t have to be an ordeal for celiac children. In fact, it should be a place for them to thrive academically and socially and afford them with the opportunity to enjoy being “normal” kids. With a 504 plan and the National School Lunch Program, they now have that opportunity.
American Celiac Disease Alliance: At School http://americanceliac.org/for-families/at-school/
Food and Nutrition Service: National School Lunch Program
From our home to yours, Tina Turbin.