MDE Releases Food Allergy Guidance

As of 2006, roughly 88 percent of schools had at least one student with a food allergy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In response to the increasing number of students with food allergies, the Michigan Department of Education recently developed and released Food Allergy Guidelines for Michigan Schools. The guidance encourages each school to have its own food allergy policy and provides a broad overview of many topics, including legal rights and responsibilities, daily management of food allergies, preparation for emergencies, and staff training expectations. The guidance is available at:

www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/2016_Food_Allergy_Guidelines_528227_7.pdf

The guidance recommends that daily management of food allergies be specified in written plans, which may include an Emergency Care Plan, Individual Health Plan, Individualized Education Program, or a Section 504 Plan, depending on the severity of the student’s needs. Further, to accommodate students with food allergies and lessen the likelihood of allergens present in the classroom, schools may need to eliminate the food allergen from the classroom, discourage students from sharing foods, discourage staff from using food as rewards, and adopt cleaning protocols.

School officials also should notify third parties of the food allergy, for example, by posting signs on classroom doors when a certain room is allergen-restricted. Because it is impossible to “guarantee absolute eradication of food allergens in a school setting,” the guidance recommends against using signs such as “peanut-free classroom” because they may “promote a false sense of security.”

Additionally, the guidance recommends that school officials address their food allergy policies with groups that may use the school’s facilities outside of regular school hours to ensure that these groups comply with the school’s food consumption, cleaning, and sanitation policies and procedures.

Parents and age-appropriate children should be encouraged to communicate with school officials about the student’s food allergy to help ensure compliance with food allergy plans and preparedness in the case of a food allergy emergency. School officials, in turn, should anticipate and prepare for food emergencies “in the same way they approach emergency preparedness for other hazards.” While some students, particularly adolescents, may be able to manage their own care, younger children, according to MDE, typically cannot. The guidance also reminds school officials that state law requires schools to allow students with written physician and parent/guardian consent to carry prescribed epinephrine auto-injectors.

The guidance also notes that the United States Department of Agriculture requires that a student have a 504 plan, an IEP, or a doctor’s note that indicates that the student has a food allergy disability before a school meal substitution can be made. Any required school meal accommodation must be made at no cost to the student.

MDE reminds school officials that they should create a positive atmosphere for students with food allergies and actively prevent bullying and harassment of these students in violation of school policy and state and federal laws. The guidance notes that through positive food allergy education and awareness, schools can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and isolation that students with food allergies often experience.

Finally, the guidance strongly encourages annual food allergy professional development for staff. Staff training should cover emergency plans, maintaining a healthy and safe environment (e.g., providing allergen-free foods during classroom activities with the help of the parents/guardians), bullying/harassment due to food allergies, and proper forms of communication with parents/guardians and other students about food allergies.

Because a food allergy may be considered a disability under federal law, school officials must be mindful that Section 504, the IDEA, and the ADA may be implicated when a student has a food allergy. Failure to comply with these federal mandates with respect to students with food allergies may result in complaints to the Office for Civil Rights and other agencies. School officials with questions about accommodating students with food allergies should contact one of the Thrun Law Firm’s special education attorneys:

Katherine Wolf Broaddus
Robert A. Dietzel
Michele R. Eaddy
Mike B. Farrell
Margaret M. Hackett
Roy H. Henley
Jennifer K. Johnston
Daniel R. Martin
Lisa L. Swem