Our doctor has recommended that my daughter, on an IEP, be gluten and dairy free. The school is giving me a hard time, though I know they are providing a special lunch for at least one other student.
You’ll need to do some research (and so did we).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nondiscrimination regulation (7 CFR 15b), as well as the regulations governing the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program, make it clear that substitutions to the regular school meal must be made for a child who is unable to eat school meals because of her disability.
USDA’s 2016 Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regulation (SP 59-2016) requires school food authorities to make reasonable modifications to accommodate a child with disabilities.
These regulations require substitutions or modifications in school meals for a child whose disability restricts her diet.
UPDATE: NEW GUIDANCE 2017. USDA has a new 2017 Guidance Manual “Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs”. It explains the school food service role in providing meals to students with special dietary needs. The Guidance Manual can be found at https://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/guidance-and-resources.
Download the 2017 Edition of Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs. This guide provides guidance on the requirement for school food authorities to ensure equal access to Program benefits for children with disabilities, which includes providing special meals to children with a disability that restricts their diet.
The guide includes nine major sections: Introduction; Statutory and Regulatory Requirements; Making a Meal Modification; Reimbursement for Modified Meals; Meal Modifications and Substitutions; Meal Service Accommodations; Procedural Safeguards and Training; Non-Disability Situations; and Appendices.
Nutrition Services under an IEP
IDEA requirements may impact the service of meals. Any nutrition-related services included in a child’s IEP deemed necessary for the child to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) must be provided at public expense and at no cost to the child’s family. Part B of IDEA funds may be used for this purpose.
Schools are reminded that they may have additional obligations to children with disabilities under the IDEA, beyond the scope of FNS guidance.
The guidance addresses IDEA 2004 and the ADA and makes it clear that if a student has a documented disability that restricts her diet, the school food service department must make the substitutions in lunches and afterschool snacks for the student.
If a meal modification for a child’s disability can be made within the Program meal pattern, a medical statement is not necessary. See the Meal Modifications section of the Guidance on page 13.
If a medical statement is required, it must include:
- an explanation of how the disability restricts the child’s diet
- an explanation of what must be done to accommodate the child’s disability
- the food or foods to be omitted from the child’s diet, and the recommended alternatives for a modified meal
If this information is already in your child’s IEP or 504 Plan, you may not need a separate medical statement. Use a team approach. Clear communication about the requirements for the medical statement can help reduce the burden for families, school service professionals, and other school personnel.
If your child’s IEP includes a nutrition component, the school is required to offer special meals, at no additional cost, if your child’s disability restricts her diet. When nutrition services are required under a child’s IEP, school officials need to make sure that school food service staff is involved early on in decisions regarding special meals. It would be wise to include food service staff on the IEP Team.
Allergies and Anaphylaxis
Nutrition Services in Cases of Food Allergies
When accommodating a child’s food allergy, no food item offered to the child may contain traces of substances that may trigger an allergic reaction.
See more guidance about managing food allergies in schools in The Food Allergy Book. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ofs/foodallergybook_english.pdf
According to the ADA, physical or mental impairments do not need to be life threatening to constitute a disability. For example, a food allergy does not need to cause anaphylaxis in order to be considered a disability.
A non-life threatening allergy may be considered a disability and require a meal modification, if it impacts major bodily functions or other major life activities.
If your child has “life threatening” food allergies that are part of his disability you should read When a School Refuses to Protect a Child with Life Threatening Allergies at https://www.wrightslaw.com/blog/when-a-school-refuses-to-protect-a-child-with-life-threatening-allergies/
Food Allergy Management
Your school should have an appropriate Food Allergy Management and Prevention Plan in place to promote the health and well-being of children with food allergies.
School plans should establish priorities for reducing the risk of exposure to food allergens and establish practices for responding to food allergies.
For information, articles, caselaw, legal reference files, resources, and free publications relating to allergy, anaphylaxis go to Allergies and Anaphylaxis.
Other Special Dietary Needs
A child’s impairment also may be considered a disability even if medication or other mitigating measures reduce the impact of the impairment. If a disability is episodic (or temporary), the child must be provided a reasonable modification.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance and Resources
Managing Food Allergies in School Toolkit
USDA Guidance and Resources
2016 USDA Policy Memorandum on Modifications to Accommodate Disabilities in the School Meal Programs SP 59-2016
2017 Guidance Manual SP 40-2017 “Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs”.
2017 USDA Guidance and Questions and Answers (Q & As): Accommodating Disabilities in the School Meal Programs. The Q&As discuss relatively common situations which have raised questions in the past and provide direction for SFAs working to ensure children with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the School Meal Programs.
Procedural Safeguards and Training
LEAs must have a procedure in place to ensure parents know how to request a modification for their child and understand their right to examine the record and file a grievance when a requested modification is not granted.
See the Procedural Safeguards requirements overview in Sp 59-2016.
Be sure to check your state regulations as well as your local district policy regarding school nutrition programs.
More about Food Allergies and Written Plans