Allergies & Special Diets

  • Definitions of Disability and of Other Special Dietary Needs

    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    The term child with a "disability" under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) means a child evaluated in accordance with IDEA as having one or more of the recognized thirteen disability categories and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.
    IDEA recognizes thirteen disability categories which establish a child's need for special education and related services. These disabilities include:

    • Autism
    • Deaf-blindness
    • Deafness or other hearing impairments
    • Intellectual Disability
    • Orthopedic impairments
    • Emotional disturbance
    • Specific learning disabilities
    • Speech or language impairment
    • Traumatic brain injury
    • Multiple disabilities

    Other health impairments due to chronic or acute health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, nephritis, sickle cell anemia, a heart condition, epilepsy, rheumatic fever, hemophilia, leukemia, lead poisoning, tuberculosis;
    Visual impairment; including blindness, which adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

    Attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may fall under one of the thirteen categories. Classification depends upon the particular characteristics associated with the disorder and how the condition manifests itself in the student, which determines the category.

    The Individualized Education Program or IEP means a written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with the IDEA and its implementing regulations. The IEP is the cornerstone of the student’s educational program that contains the program of special education and related services to be provided to a child with a disability covered under the IDEA.

    NOTE: Some states supplement the IEP with a written statement specifically designed to address a student’s nutritional needs. Other states employ a “Health Care Plan” to address the nutritional needs of their students. For ease of reference, the term “IEP” is used to reflect the IEP as well as any written statement designating the required nutrition services. 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. 


    Physicians Statement for Children with Disabilities

    USDA regulations 7 CFR Part 15b require substitutions or modifications in school meals for children whose disabilities restrict their diets. A child with a disability must be provided substitutions in foods when that need is supported by a statement signed by a licensed physician. The physician's statement must identify:

    the child's disability;
    an explanation of why the disability restricts the child's diet;
    the major life activity affected by the disability;
    the food or foods to be omitted from the child's diet, and the food or choice of foods that must be substituted.

    The form (Figure 1), in Appendix A, is adapted from the USDA guidance: Accommodating Children with Special Needs: Guidance for School Food Service Staff, and may be used to obtain the required information from the physician

    Reference: Accommodating Children with Special Needs: Guidance for School Foods Service Staff, United States Department of Food and Nutrition Service, Fall 2001;


    Food Allergy Management

    Generally, children with food allergies or intolerances do not have a disability as defined under either Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or Part B of IDEA, and the school food service may, but is not required to, make food substitutions for them.
    However, when in the licensed physician's assessment, food allergies may result in severe, life-threatening (anaphylactic) reactions, the child's condition would meet the definition of "disability," and the substitutions prescribed by the licensed physician must be made.


    Other Special Dietary Needs

    The school food service may make food substitutions, at their discretion, for individual children who do not have a disability, but who are medically certified as having a special medical or dietary need. Such determinations are only made on a case-by-case basis. This provision covers those children who have food intolerances or allergies but do not have life-threatening reactions (anaphylactic reactions) when exposed to the food(s) to which they have problems.