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Creative Ideas For Your Allergic Child's Custom 504 Plan

After missing 22 days of middle school, we finally got our son's federal 504 plan approved. It's the fifth year our son has missed 20 or more days of school. If you have a child with significant allergies or asthma, it's worth the effort to pursue a custom 504 plan. If you are not familiar with this law, now is the time to start your research.

The federal 504 plan is a safeguard to your child's school environment. It is a guideline for the school to follow so that the child is not only safe in school, but also gets the support he needs if he misses school due to a chronic illness. Since each child is unique and each school is unique, each 504 is tailored to the individual. From the moment the child steps on to a school bus to the moment he is dropped off must be analyzed.

For children with life threatening allergies, the 504 protocol in the classroom, lunchroom, and gym must be followed, especially in the elementary schools. A nut- free table may be safe to eat at, but another child who ate his PBJ may not have washed his hands after eating and could contaminate the classroom, gym ball, or any number of shared items. The possibilities for exposure to allergens are endless. Ensuring that all children wash their hands before and after lunch could be written into your 504 plan. You may consider making the classroom nut-free, the snacks for parties chosen from a pre-approved list, and the room designated pet-free. Other issues to consider are school sponsored events selling food with possible nut products, Halloween treats, chemicals used to clean the school, paints and floor polishes, pest control, or latex balloons. Whatever your child is severely allergic to has to be considered. Do you need a HEPA filter? Is there mold in the library? How is the school refinishing the wood floors? Is there a walnut tree on the playground? Think outside the box!

Other areas of concern for students with allergies are the bus rides. Our district busses run three schools or more each day. From elementary to high school as well as some shared private schools. Perhaps you may consider requesting that your child require a designated nut free seat in the front of the bus. Further protocols might include educating the bus driver about the the signs to look for in an anaphylaxis reaction? Ask what the protocol is in an emergency. Can they administer an epi pen? What if your child sits next to a child with a cat or dog and has an allergic reaction from hair transfer? What if your child has an asthma attack on the bus? Find answers to every possible scenario and incorporate the transportation into your custom plan.

My son, who is a teenager now, has a severe allergy to sulfur chemical preservatives found in most processed foods. At Back to School night I asked the nutritionist from the cafeteria if any of his favorite foods, such as pizza, had this preservative. A few weeks later we got our answer. Almost all of the school lunches served had a form of sulfur. Needless to say he now brings all his lunches. His food allergy did not need to be in his 504 because he needed to digest the food to have a reaction and sitting next to kids with cafeteria served meals were not an issue.

Even so, there were some unique items listed in our 504. My son also has a rare allergy, cold urticaria, life threatening hives from being exposed to the cold. It could be 90 degrees outside and if he gets wet and chilled he gets super hives. Swimming alone is not an option and he has an epi pen for this condition. Therefore, his 504 plan mandated a bus stop next to the house.

The most difficult part of the 504 we had to negotiate was the request for additional support from a tutor. Our district usually provides a tutor after the student has missed 3 consecutive days or has a home bound three week medical leave. However, our son would miss school randomly. Sometimes the allergy meds would make him sleep late, other times he couldn't sleep due to his asthma. He usually never missed three consecutive days and therefore didn't qualify for tutoring. However, missing 22 days of school in 5 months was extremely challenging. So, we requested a tutor as needed. Our doctors wrote the request, and eventually it was added into the 504.

In hindsight, a 504 would have been very helpful in my son's earlier school years. His asthma was more severe, his classrooms had furry pets, and there was even a bring your dog to school event. Now that he's entering high school, he is his own advocate for asthma, carries his emergency meds and knows when he needs to go to the nurse for help, not to mention he carries a cell phone. So for your peace of mind, start writing your 504 for Kindergarten. It will save you many sleepless nights worrying about your child's safety. The 504 can be rewritten and tweaked as needed and as the child progresses. All teachers, staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers will be on the same agenda. The outcome for a successful school learning environment will be put into motion. Parents will not have to negotiate the protocol annually, and most importantly, the child will have a much safer school year.

Janet Millan

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