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Protect Students With Food Allergies

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
November 2020
How to develop a food allergy policy that promotes K-12 student safety and meets legal requirements

Approximately 8% of American children have food allergies. Actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) signal increasing enforcement of federal laws that prohibit discrimination against people with food allergies.

Your K-12 school should update its food allergy policy and procedures to ensure student safety and comply with evolving legal requirements.

Examine Federal Laws

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

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which applies to schools receiving 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.

Develop and Implement a Food Allergy Policy

The National School Board Association (NSBA), in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends schools implement a food allergy policy.

  • Identify 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.
  • Develop individual written management plans. Create plans to address the unique needs of each student with a food allergy. This may be an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under IDEA or a 504 Plan under Section 504. The National Association of School Nurses (NASN) recommends having individual health care plans to address emergency mitigation and response.
  • Manage medication storage, access, and administration. Ensure 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.
  • Create healthy environments. Food isn’t only eaten in the lunchroom. Eliminate food allergens from classrooms, school buses, and extracurricular activities. Preserve student confidentiality when possible. Prevent bullying of students with declared food allergies.
  • Educate students and parents. Incorporate food allergy awareness into the curriculum. Emphasize knowledge of common allergens (milk, eggs, nuts, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Encourage support for classmates. Offer the expertise of school nurses or other health care providers to parents of children with food allergies.
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