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The Back to School 504 Plan

by Erika Macchione on August 03, 2022


Back to School is an exciting time for everyone but for those who suffer from food allergies and chronic illnesses, it can feel a bit overwhelming and stressful. A 504 plan can help you, and the school staff, keep your child on a safe eating plan, safely participating in school activities and knowing what to do if your child has a reaction while in school. Knowing and understanding how the school will accommodate your child’s needs can help relieve the stress and worry.

Now let's dig in on what a 504 plan is, how it can help and how you can create one!

So, what is a 504 plan? 

Simply, the 504 plan ensures the rights for students, with qualifying disabilities, access to the services, accommodations, and any modifications that they need to make their way, safely and successfully, through school.

Do all schools provide a 504 plan?

All schools that receive federal funding must comply with, fulfill and meet the needs laid out in a student’s specific 504 plan.

Independent schools, that do not receive any federal funding, will have their own process to support the rights of their student body who have disabilities that would be otherwise protected by the 504, called Individualized Education Program (IEP).

While higher education institutions are also required to meet the needs of their student body, with qualifying disabilities, establishing the 504 plan, is slightly different when compared to K-12. The biggest difference is that the responsibility falls more on the family/students, in that they need to self-advocate. Schools will not inquire about additional or individualized needs or accommodations.

How do I create a 504 plan?

Start by contacting the school and request a 504 plan, or an IEP. Every school will have their own set of requirements. Teachers, head of school, advisors, physical/mental health team, and food service team may be included in working with you.

Connect with your medical team, they may have their own 504 plan template that provides the general information about the allergy or disease, which you can tailor with the student’s specifics.

If your school or school district is difficult to work with, ask your medical team for guidance and support. They may have had previous experience communicating with the school or school district and can also emphasize the seriousness of the issue.

Include a signed statement, including proof of diagnosis, from the doctor. Formal documentation and diagnosis records will help when communicating with the food service department, each school or school district might vary in their requirements.

Discuss the specifics about the student’s symptoms and best care/support if affected. Don’t just focus in on physical symptoms, include ways to support the student emotionally.

Make sure that the plan is clear and that all adults, who are involved with the student understand the entirety of the plan and how to best support and care for the student.

Possible considerations to include in the plan:

  • Unrestricted access to restrooms.
  • Food substitutions.
  • Product substitutions (i.e. art and craft supplies)
  • Safe meal and snack plans.
  • Area for food storage and to prepare foods.
  • Strategies for classroom parties and school celebrations.
  • For the teacher/school to provide advance notice about parties, celebrations, or any classroom activities that could include gluten.
  • Storage space for extra set of clothes.
  • Food for emergencies (evacuation or shelter-in-place).
  • Contact information for caregivers, emergency contacts, and medical team.

Possible action items to include:

  • Call caregiver, immediately.
  • Provide quiet area to rest.
  • Access to bathroom, ideally private.
  • Access to water.
  • Respect the needs and requests that the student may have.
  • Follow medical directives from doctor if anti-nausea medications have been prescribed.

If symptoms are severe and potentially embarrassing (vomiting and/or diarrhea for example) select a person, in the school, that the student likes and trusts who can be called upon to help, especially during off campus activities or retreats. It may not be their teacher or advisor.

Depending on the age of the student, involve the student in creating their 504 plan. Students need to learn how to self-advocate for themselves, especially as they transition beyond the K-12 setting.

Reach out to the school community and see if there are others with celiac disease or who are also following a strict gluten free diet. Creating a community helps decrease the feeling of isolation and creates an opportunity to work together for the bigger events like class parties and retreats.

What if the school is resistant or does not follow the 504 plan?

Make note and save any records that show denials of requests, if the school challenges requests, or does not follow the plan.

Let your medical team know about the lack of support from the school, they may be able to provide support and guidance.

Contact your state’s Parent Training and Information Center (PTIC) representative.

The PTIC representative is skilled in working with families and individuals with disabilities, up to the age of 26, successfully navigate their students’ needs while in school.

Lastly, what counts as a qualifying disability?

Disability” is defined as a physical or mental disease, condition, or disorder, that substantially prevents, or limits, a person from being able to manage life tasks. Some examples of life tasks are, self-care, hearing, learning, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, breathing, and working.

Hidden” is defined as a disability that is unseen, for example a medical, emotional, or learning condition.

Check out some of the many hidden disabilities that are covered by a 504 plan for both K-12 and higher education.

Contributor: Anne Moon, NIMA Partners Education Team and Founder of  Beautifully Gluten Free  


Education, D. (Ed.). (2020, January 10). Protecting Students with Disabilities. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html
Education, D. (Ed.). (2020, January 10). The Civil Rights of Students with Hidden Disabilities and Section 504. Home. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq5269.html
Küpper Lisa (Ed.). (2000, July). A Guide to the Individualized Education Program. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/iepguide.pdf