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Managing food allergies in school

Published January 2015

Food allergies appear to be on the rise and there is no shortage of concerns for schools dealing with them. In 2013, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published national comprehensive guidelines to assist schools and school districts with managing food allergies in the school setting.

Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs

Although a student may have a food allergy or intolerances, this does not necessarily mean that the student has a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and U.S. Department of Education regulations. If a student’s food allergy or intolerance is substantially limiting in a major life activity, then the student is covered by Section 504 and is entitled to services and supports to ensure an equal opportunity to benefit from the educational program. If the student has a food allergy or intolerance that does not result in a substantial limitation in a major life activity, a school or a school district may exercise its discretion when responding to parent requests. A determination in these situations is made on a case-by-case basis. Best practice includes the district’s food service director and school nurse in the planning meeting to make appropriate accommodation, substitutions, input to meet emergency health needs, and assurance that foods provided during school meals would be suitable to the student’s disability. The district’s food service director can provide direction on how meal preparation and delivery would be handled to ensure the student’s safety and provide feedback on the cafeteria environment where students congregate for their meals. The school nurse can provide assistance with emergency planning, communication with providers, and educational staff training to implement action if the student were to be exposed to the allergen related to the disability.

Food substitutions based on allergy or intolerance under the National School Lunch Program are governed by regulations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA regulations require a physician to certify that a student’s food allergies result in a substantial limitation in a major life activity, as well as specify which foods are to be removed from a student’s diet and which foods are to be substituted. For medical conditions that do not substantially limit a major life activity, USDA regulations allow schools to make substitutions or modifications at a school’s discretion, if certified by a medical authority (a category broader than physicians). Schools or school districts may give the Diet Modification Request Form to parents of a student who has a disability, or a special medical or dietary need. It is important that the form be completed carefully and thoroughly.

Here is further guidance from the USDA on Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in School Food and Nutrition Programs. For questions regarding managing food allergies in school, contact our School Nurse Consultant Melissa Walker at For questions about children with disabilities, Thomas Mayes at