In order to get accommodations at a school or day care, many parents find doing a "504 Plan" helpful. At its most basic, it is a document that parents and your child's educators collaborate on and use to guide them as they accommodate your child's special needs. A medically-required, gluten-free diet fits in with these needs.
Definition of a 504 Plan:
This term originates from the federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act and was designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education (ED):
“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .”
“Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights statute that assures individuals will not be discriminated against based on their disability. All school districts that receive federal funding are responsible for implementation of this law. Any learner with a disability that significantly impacts a major life activity, whether or not (s)he receives special education services, is protected by this law.” (From MN Dept of Ed website)
What does this mean for schools? Sherri Knutson, Dietitian for Rochester, Minnesota Schools explained it this way during a ROCK meeting
"This law qualifies Celiac Disease as a disability because it affects a major life function – eating. Many school districts have differing opinions on how to interpret this law, but the USDA is clear on their directive that the school district must offer gluten free meals at no extra cost. However, that gluten free meal can be the same meal every day. Expect the transition to offering gluten free school lunch options to be slow and gradual. Be willing to offer suggestions for lower cost food items that your child will eat that offer the nutritional balance the school district needs to provide. Start small with just a few hot lunch alternatives a month and build on that base as the opportunity arises. If something is not working, communicate that to the food service staff. Creating gluten free school lunch options for your child will need to be an active partnership between you and the school."
Download Sherri Knutson's Presentation here
Section 504 is administered by the U. S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR). If you need information about Section 504 issues, please contact the Office for Civil Rights:
Office for Civil Rights
Chicago Office (Region V)
U. S. Department of Education
500 W. Madison Street Suite 1475
Chicago, Illinois 60661
(312) 730-1560 / FAX: (312) 730-1576
Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities will answer questions regarding protecting students with disabilities.
(A complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date the discrimination occurred. You do not have to file a complaint with the school district before filing a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, and you may file complaints with both the school district and the Office for Civil Rights if you wish to do so. To file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, go to their website and click the button on the right marked *How to File a Complaint.)
You may also contact MN Dept of Education for help with what to do:
MN Dept of Education - School Nutrition Program webpage – You can email or call the department and ask to communicate with a School Nutritionist
The Minnesota Department of Education has no enforcement authority for Section 504.
Drafted by Julia Fried-Devine in collaboration with Julie Jones, Twin Cities R.O.C.K. members