What is a 504 Plan?The 504 plan gets its name from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for Americans with disabilities. A 504 plan is created to ensure that a person -– child or adult -– with any special condition can have equal access to a program funded by the U.S. government.
In schools, a 504 plan is a way of making sure that the teachers and other staff understand the ramifications of a child’s medical condition or disability and the need to help the child with special challenges and protect the child from risks.
“A 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers,” explains About.com’s Guide to Special Needs Children. Clearly stating the child's needs and how to address them can be helpful not just for the child but for the teachers and staff as well.
Why Would a Child with Celiac Disease Qualify for a 504 Plan?Since 1946, the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program, has provided nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches each school day to children in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child-care institutions.
The American Celiac Disease Alliance points out, “Like other federal programs, the National School Lunch Program prohibits individuals with disabilities from being excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of programs receiving federal funds from Food and Nutrition Services.”
School lunches are one of the reasons why some parents ask that 504 plans be developed for their children with celiac disease. Other situations to cover in a 504 plan could include birthday parties in school, handling of gluten-containing materials in art classes or snacks on field trips.
Are 504 Plans Really Necessary?About.com’s Guide to Special Needs Children points out that “the kind of accommodations and modifications offered by a 504 plan are often the sorts of things you may have worked out privately with the school or the teacher.” But, she adds, “A new teacher, new principal, new superintendent, or a move to a new school or town can render all your handshake agreements invalid.” In her opinion, “It's always best to get things down in writing” in a legally binding 504 plan. Ultimately, of course, every parent must consider his own children and decide what's best for each child.
How to Prove Eligibility
To qualify for special dietary accommodations in the National School Lunch Program, a child’s medical issues will need to be documented. Documentation requirements vary by state (and sometimes by school district). Some states have specific forms to be filled out by the child’s doctor. The American Celiac Disease Alliance has published a list of links to state forms and requirements.
At a minimum, school officials will need proof of the child’s celiac disease diagnosis; explanations of why celiac disease restricts the child’s diet and how celiac disease can adversely affect the child in the educational setting; and foods to be omitted and foods to be substituted during meals and snacks. So that a complete plan of services can be developed, it’s also important to explain how other activities might be affected and how specific situations should be handled. Topics to cover include food on field trips; cafeteria procedures; art classes for young children who might ingest the materials; food during emergency evacuations; communications with parents; and emergency contact information.
As About.com’s Guide to Food Allergies notes, “Expectations for all parties -- parents, children, classmates, food services workers, nurses, and administration -- should be clear after the 504 is completed.”
Where to Find Sample 504 Plans for Celiac DiseaseThe American Celiac Disease Alliance has worked with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. to develop a model 504 plan [PDF] for students with celiac disease.
The Celiac Disease Program and Support Group at Children’s Hospital Boston has a useful list of what some celiac students have put on their 504 plans.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness has 504 Roadmap as a PDF file that can be downloaded from its Navigating the School System page.
About.com’s Special Needs Children site has sample plans, frequently asked questions, and other resources.
How to Get the Process StartedA parent or guardian must contact the child’s school and request a 504 evaluation. Once the evaluation is requested, a meeting is scheduled at which a multidisciplinary team (such as the principal, a counselor, nurse and teacher) review the request and determine whether or not the child is eligible for a 504 plan. The school is not required to include the parents at this meeting. If the child qualifies, the team will draft the plan, which is subject to annual review and revision if necessary.
Children’s Hospital Boston. Celiac Patient Education Information: Non-discrimination in schools - The 504 Plan
About.com’s Special Needs Children Site. 504 Plans: FAQs, Sample Plans, and Additional Resources