A 504 plan* documents food allergy accommodations agreed to by parents and their child’s school. Plans are typically created during a 504 meeting attended by the child’s parents, the school’s 504 coordinator, and school personnel having knowledge of or regular contact with the student.
Successful 504 Meeting Tips
Parental passions can understandably run high during 504 meetings, and school personnel are trying to accommodate the needs of many students. To make your 504 session successful as possible, consider the following tips for a fruitful, relationship building negotiation.
Keep A Respectful Tone. Despite frustrations that may arise, always work to build an atmosphere of trust and cooperation with 504 team members. Thank them for their time and willingness to create plan that benefits your child.
Always Come Prepared. To be effective, you must prepare by knowing your child’s rights, and CDC guidelines for food allergy management in schools—plus the state and local policies.
Have documentation or recommendations from your allergist with you, and information supporting your child’s needs. Be ready to discuss food in the classroom, lunchroom seating, where ephinephrine will be kept, substitute teacher guidelines, and field trip protocols.
Have A 504 File. If you haven’t already, start a 504 file containing all information related to your child’s plan. If you ever need to lodge a complaint or engage in mediation, you will have documentation to support your claims.
The file should hold copies of emails, notices of parental rights, meeting notices and notes (who attended, what was said, and by whom), plus a copy of the completed 504 plan. Send a follow-up email, and file a copy of it, acknowledging any discussion of the plan outside formal meetings.
Acquire An Ally. Do your best to have a friend or family member at the meeting for support. This person does not have to participate although you might ask him or her to take notes. If they choose to participate, make sure the two of you are on the same page before the meeting begins.
Direct Questions Wisely. During a 504 meeting, direct your questions to the appropriate individual. For instance, school policy questions will go to the principal, while questions related to the classroom should be answered by a teacher. Lunch related issues are best addressed by those who monitor the lunchroom.
Stay Unstuck. Instead of allowing the meeting to bog down on one item of disagreement, it’s fine to say, “Since we disagree, let’s move on to another point and revisit this one another time.” This will relieve tension, assure the discussion of other topics, and give the school an opportunity to consider or find a way to implement what you asked for. It also gives you time to find resources or data that support your request.
Cultivate Clarity. The 504 plan, because it involves many people – teachers, bus drivers, lunch aides, classroom assistants – must be easy to understand. Too many details will make it hard to remember and carry out. For instance, the leg your child prefers to receive epinephrine in is immaterial to their safety. Clarity and simplicity should be the goal.
Creating and implementing a 504 plan is an ongoing process; be prepared for occasional misunderstandings and setbacks. By staying flexible, positive, and open you can foster a good working relationship with 504 team members to meet the safety needs of your child.
* 504 plans, named for Section 504 of 1973’s Rehabilitation Act, guarantee a disabled person’s right to full participation in the benefits of federally assisted programs. Because food allergy can impair “major life activities” such as eating and breathing, it qualifies as a disability.