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    February 2019

    Food Allergies in K-12 Schools

    two young boys eating in cafeteria

    The number of children with food allergies increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, recent actions by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)  and the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) signal increasing enforcement of federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with food allergies. K-12 schools should update their food allergy policies and procedures to ensure student safety and comply with evolving legal requirements.

    Legal Background

    Food allergies are often considered disabilities under numerous federal laws, including:

    • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which applies to schools that receive federal aid
    • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which applies to public schools
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to all schools

    Local counsel can advise how federal and local laws affect your school.

    In 2013, the DOJ and Lesley University settled a complaint by students that Lesley violated the ADA when it did not provide reasonable accommodations for food allergies. K-12 schools should be aware that DOJ is stepping up its enforcement of the ADA to protect students with food allergies from discrimination. The DOJ may extend enforcement to K-12 schools. OCR has already entered into resolution agreements with school districts around the country.

    Develop and Implement a Food Allergy Policy

    The National School Board Association (NSBA), in partnership with the CDC, recommends that schools implement food allergy policies that promote student safety by:

    • Identifying students with food allergies. At student registration, require parents to declare all known allergies and provide documentation from health care providers. Request a family health history form from all students.
    • Developing individual written management plans. Create a plan to address the unique needs of each student with a food allergy. This may be an Individualized Education Plan under IDEA or a 504 plan under Section 504. The National Association of School Nurses recommends that individual health care plans address emergency mitigation and response.
    • Managing the storage, access, and administration of medications. Ensure that educators, staff, school nurses, and the student (if appropriate) are properly trained to administer medication. Follow physician orders and consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with state law.
    • Creating healthy environments. Food is not consumed only in the lunchroom. Eliminate food allergens from classrooms, school buses, and extracurricular activities. Preserve student confidentiality when possible, and protect students with declared food allergies from bullying.
    • Educating students and parents. Incorporate food allergy awareness into the curriculum. Emphasize knowledge of common allergens (milk, eggs, nuts, shellfish, soy, and wheat) and encourage support for classmates. Offer the expertise of school nurses or other health care providers to parents of children with food allergies.

    The growing number of children who suffer from food allergies are entitled to legal protection. As enforcement of certain laws prohibiting discrimination is likely to increase, UE recommends that K-12 schools review applicable laws with local counsel, update their food allergy policies, and implement health and safety procedures.


    You Asked UE: Medication Control in K-12 Schools

    You Asked UE: Federal Government Enforces ADA on Food Allergies

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Food Allergies in Schools

    National Association of School Nurses: Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Tool Kit

    Chicago Public Schools: Food Allergy Management Policy

    St. Vrain (Colo.) Public Schools: Guidelines for Managing Students with Severe Food Allergies


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