Working Against Us.
Almost two years ago, our son’s first severe allergic reaction happened on a kindergarten field trip to the Richmond Metro Zoo. Thankfully, I was a chaperone when the reaction occurred and I was sitting next to him on the bus. Since his initial reaction and official diagnosis, we have done a lot of research, and what we have learned is that food allergies are very unpredictable. On that fateful day, our son had a bite of a protein bar (that contained cashew nut butter) several hours before he actually started exhibiting any symptoms, which eventually progressed into anaphylaxis. Since a previous reaction is no indication of future reactions, we have no idea how fast the next reaction will materialize and what the symptoms will be, so we err on the side of caution.
Our son is now in 2nd grade, and he has two field trips coming up this month. We indicated our interest to his teacher that we wanted to chaperone the field trips. As luck would have it, we were not selected. When we received the email, we were panic stricken! How do we send our son on a field trip with a completely uncontrolled environment without one of us with him to ensure his safety? To make matters even more risky, each class is only taking two parents in addition to the teacher for 24 children (that is a ratio of 8:1) when they used to have at least 4 or 5 parents which would equate to a ratio 4 or 5:1. We called and spoke to the school nurse (who has indicated that she would advocate for us), but the nurse told us that there are just too many children with food allergies and not every parent of a child with a food allergy can attend the field trips. Therefore, our best option would be to drive separately but not ride the bus. What a great idea! This is perfect as it would achieve the objective of having an extra set of eyes to ensure our son stays safe. The nurse asked us to email our son’s teacher to have her call us to discuss our plan.
Shortly there after, we happened to see our younger son's teacher at a middle school event. We explained to her our plan to attend the field trips, but she seemed to not be receptive and stated that parent participation was limited by the venues. We reinforced the seriousness of our son’s food allergy, but she indicated to us that if she had known how serious the situation was, maybe she could have accommodated differently. Unfortunately, the directive from the doctor was not "serious" enough for her. She then indicated that we could contact the venues to determine if they would be willing to make an exception to allow us to attend. We spoke to the staff at both venues and they were completely fine that we attend and actually encouraged us to attend; the more the merrier.
As result, we met with the principal to discuss our concerns. The school principal was very understanding and is permitting us to attend both field trips. She explained the challenges that arise if every parent of a child with a food allergy wanted to attend; the field trip numbers could become unwieldy. We indicated that we understood the issue but in our son’s case, we felt it was in the best interest of the school and our child that at least one of his parents attends his field trips. The principal asked us to pursue a 504 plan which is permitted under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 developed by the US Department of Education to ensure our son is accommodated on a go forward basis.
What is a 504 plan? Upon researching, we learned that this plan would outline the accommodations, aids or services that our son with a “disability” needs in order to use, and fully participate in, a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). 504 Plans are a legal right in schools that receive federal funding, which includes many private schools. A “disability” is defined as a physical or mental issue that seriously limits one or more major life activities. Life activities can include things like your heart and circulatory system, eating and your digestive system, breathing and your respiratory system, and more. All of these life activities are at risk for a person with a life-threatening food allergy. In many cases, students at risk for severe reactions to certain foods often have a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504. These children are entitled to an evaluation for a 504 Plan. If the evaluation finds the student eligible, then appropriate accommodations should be made and designated in a written 504 Plan to make sure your child has access to a free and appropriate public education.
Armed with this information, we have now pursued and have been deemed eligible for a 504 plan to ensure our son is able to take full advantage of his educational opportunities and lead a normal life as much as possible that others take for granted. If you decide to pursue the 504 plan for your child, please feel free to contact us with questions as we have been able to successfully obtain a 504 for our son due to the severity of his food allergy.
For more information about Section 504 and the ADA can be found at https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html and https://www.foodallergy.org/laws-and-regulations and http://www.doe.virginia.gov/special_ed/.