When your child with a food allergy starts school, you will probably have many questions, such as:
Since 5.6 million children in the U.S. have food allergies,1 many schools already have processes in place to manage them. But each school and each child’s needs are different. With proper planning and partnering with your child’s school, you and the school staff can create a healthy learning environment for your student.
To prepare for each school year, Kids With Food Allergies (KFA) recommends you follow certain steps. Make them part of your annual school routine. You may not need to follow each step every year as your child gets older and learns to self-manage their food allergy. Use these steps as a guide as you work with your child’s school.
You and your child’s school have the same goal: for your child to have a quality education in a safe environment. Partnering with your child’s school is vital when it comes to successfully managing their food allergy.
Start by contacting your child’s school about their food allergy in writing. Ask for meetings with school staff who will be part of the planning process. This often includes the school or district nurse, the primary teacher, or sometimes the principal.
Throughout your child’s schooling, you will work with the school and district staff. Approach it with a positive mindset and tone.
It’s also important to teach your child, in age-appropriate ways, how to manage their food allergy. This may mean learning how to recognize when they are having symptoms, knowing how to wash their hands properly, or other steps to take to prevent allergic reactions.
Prepare for School With Food Allergies and Asthma (Visit YouTube)
Planning for your child’s care at school can take some time. Each year, start preparing for the next school year early. Spring is usually the best time to start, especially since some prep will probably continue into the summer. If your child will need accommodation, start that process at the beginning of the calendar year (January or February) when possible.
Here are some of the steps you’ll want to take during the spring and summer to prepare:
At the end of the school year:
Every student with food allergies should have a school health care plan. This plan lists your child’s common symptoms, medicines, and what to do if they have symptoms. It may also outline what school staff should do to prevent allergic reactions.
Three of the most common types of school health care plans are:
Also ask about:
Set up a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) to talk about classroom management of food allergies after you have met with the nurse or school representative.
Talk with them about:
Depending on the school and your child’s needs, you may also meet with other teachers, the school principal, food services director, and/or athletic director.
Teal Classroom™ Kit (printable PDF)
Non-Food Rewards for Children With Food Allergies (includes printable PDF)
Potential Food Allergens in Preschool, School, Camp Crafts, and Activities (includes printable PDF)
Teach and encourage your child to manage their food allergy as they grow. These skills may include:
Talk with your child’s doctor about if your child is old enough to self-carry and use their epinephrine on their own.
How to Talk to Your Child About Food Allergy Bullying (includes printable PDF)
There are three federal laws that protect students with food allergies:
Under the ADA and Section 504, a food allergy may be considered a disability depending on how severe it is. The IDEA ensures children with disabilities have access to “free appropriate public education.” These laws allow you to work with your child’s school for reasonable accommodations for your child.
Check with your state to see if they have laws that protect your child and their right to education. For example, your child also has the right to carry their own epinephrine. If your child will carry their own epinephrine, be sure to have paperwork on file at the school signed by your child’s doctor that says they can self-carry. Every state has laws allowing children to self-carry their own medicine.
Are Asthma and Allergies Disabilities? (Visit AAFA.org)
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Visit ada.gov)
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Visit ed.gov)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Visit ed.gov)
Each school has a different way of managing food allergies. And as your child moves through each grade level, their needs will also change. Revisit the school planning process each time they change schools, whether they are moving from elementary school to middle school to high school or they move to a new school and/or district.
Within a given school district, 504 plans must be reviewed at least every three years (unless the parents and agency agree it is not required). Or they should be reviewed as often as once a year if the situation changes or the parent or teacher asks for re-evaluation.2 When a student moves to a new district, the new district must review the plan. If they decide the plan is still appropriate, they must follow it. If not, they must evaluate the student and develop a new plan. 2
When your child moves to a new school and/or district, follow the steps above and adjust them to best suit your child’s age, skill level, and needs.
When choosing a college, consider their food allergy policies along with their educational offerings. Colleges vary greatly in how they handle food allergies.
It’s important to support your teen with growing independence. In the college setting, your student will have to request any accommodations and manage their food allergy. Your student should contact the college’s disabilities services department to ask how the school can accommodate them.
Some schools require students living on campus to enroll in a school meal plan. If your student will eat on campus, they will need to speak with the food services director about accommodations.
If your student will be cooking their own food in the dorm, ask if the dorm has a kitchen, what types of appliances are available, where it is located, and what cooking appliances your child is allowed to bring. If your child needs special accommodations to cook in the dorm, talk with the disabilities services department.
Even though colleges that get federal funding must follow Section 504 and the ADA, they are held to a different standard than elementary and secondary schools. They do not have to follow your prior 504 plan. If you ask for accommodations that would cause them to change their programs or create undue burden, the college may be able to say no to your request.3
Reviewed July 2021 by Naomi Seiler, JD, George Washington University