Get “Schooled” on Food Allergies with PTO Mom.
Suggestion from a reader: Dealing with schools that are not so willing to accommodate. ~Since I recently went through some “drama” with my son’s school, I thought this would be perfect for me to discuss.
Unfortunately, sometimes you come across schools are that hesitant on providing accommodations for your food allergic child. I never understand why, however, for some reason it happens. I would think that the school would want to do anything you request (reasonable requests) to make sure your child is safe, and to protect the school from a lawsuit. However, there are still, in this day in age, people who do not understand the importance of food allergies. I had a personal experience with this. Here is what I went through:
I had an informal written agreement with the principal, school social worker and school nurse to: send home notices reminding parents and students that it is a peanut free school, provide parents and students with a list of safe snacks (which i provided), and post notices on the walls of the hallways near the entrance and cafeteria that it is a peanut free school. This plan was the same as last year and worked fine last year. There has been staff changes this year which changed our principal. I noticed this year that NONE of the requests I had made were being followed. Two students actually brought in peanut butter crackers and pb&j sandwiches and sat at his lunch table! So, I requested a meeting with the principal and school social worker.
In this meeting, I discussed my requests with them and any changes that needed to be made. I discussed protecting my son under the Section 504 plan, to which both of them denied it, saying food allergies do not qualify. If you are prescribed an epipen, you have a life threatening condition which can be considered a disability, therefore would qualify! The school principal refused to send out notices reminding parents that the school is peanut free, claiming it was denied by the marketing department, which it was fine in the previous school year so I believe this was an excuse. So, I contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
*If you have a problem, the first thing you should do is contact the school’s principal to set up a meeting to discuss your concerns.*
I had it confirmed by PA Dept of Edu. that if it states it in the handbook (peanut-free school), there is nothing preventing them from sending it home to parents because the policy is already in place. So, I requested it again, this time in writing. I also contacted student services, and filed a complaint with the district.
*The second thing you should do after trying to work with the school, is contact the state’s Dept of Education to find out what their policies are regarding managing food allergies in school.*
When I didn’t hear back in a timely fashion, I contacted student services at the district’s board of education, my inside source told me that is my best bet for a quick outcome, and told them because of the principal denying my request, he is risking a federal lawsuit in conjunction with them not following the peanut-free atmosphere that supposed to be in that school. I filed a complaint with the district’s school board and then contacted a lawyer.
*The third thing you should do is request the accommodation again. Contact student services at the school district’s board of education. Mention that the school is risking a federal lawsuit by denying accommodations for a food allergic individual. After you have done that, file a complaint with the district’s school board and then, if you feel it is necessary, contact a lawyer. *
Now, I have come to realize, after doing these things, it scares the school. They obviously do not want a lawsuit on their hands and the principal’s supervisor was more than likely on him about the denial of my requests. Immediately after I filed the complaints, I received a phone call from the school principal. He agreed to send a notice home once a month with the school calendar saying “Reminder: We are an Allergy Free” school. Please do not in peanuts or shellfish into the school. (Shellfish was a request from another parent at the school who was having similar problems with the principal).
I also spoke with the cafeteria staff and his teacher so they are aware to not let anything near my son’s table (that he is allergic to). The cafeteria staff now overlook his table everyday at lunch time to make sure he doesn’t come in contact with anything that is not safe for him. I have been staying on top of this though because I am not going to let another incident happen. The next one could put my kid in the hospital!
*The fourth thing you should do is speak with the staff member that will be around your child the most. (cafeteria staff, teachers, etc). More than likely, everything you have done so far, will “scare” the school into action. If by chance that doesn’t work, I suggest forwarding your experiences to a disability lawyer that specializes in severe food allergies.*
Try not to be discouraged if you come across school staff and/or parents that just “don’t get it”. It is your job to make them “get it”. It needs to be taken seriously. With more people talking about it and understanding the accommodations that need to be made, more people will understand. Food allergies don’t always have to be a bad thing. Bad experiences like mine, seem to work out in the end and turn into a great teaching lesson.
- 1-800-514-0301 is the ADA voice information line www.ada.gov
- 1-800-421-3481 is the U.S. Dept of Edu. Civil Rights Office (this is who you need to talk to about implementing and enforcing a 504 plan) http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/index.html)
Have a question regarding Peanut, Tree Nut or Other food allergies in school? Want to suggest a topic for me to discuss? Follow Me on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/ptomom or Contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org and follow my Inspiredeats column here.
Get “Schooled” on Food Allergies With PTO Mom!