Special Needs

Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Program

There is a lot of confusion regarding when food substitutions have to be made for a student.  The federal regulations state that “schools shall make substitutions in foods for students who are considered handicapped and whose handicap restricts their diet. Schools may also make substitutions for nonhandicapped students who are unable to consume the regular lunch (breakfast) because of medical or other special dietary needs.”

In simple terms, this means that if a student has a documented disability that restricts their diet, the school foodservice department MUST make the substitutions as listed by a licensed physician on a medical statement form.

If, however, a request for food substitutions is made for a student without a documented disability, the school foodservice department MAY make the substitutions listed on the medical statement form signed by a recognized medical authority.  Such determinations are only made on a case-by-case basis.

In cases of children with food allergies or intolerances, they do not have a disability as defined under either Section 504 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.

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.

A child with a special dietary request must be supported by a statement, which explains the food substitution that is requested.  It must be signed by a recognized medical authority.  The medical statement must include:
• an identification of the medical or other special dietary condition which restricts the child’s diet
• the food or foods to be omitted from the child’s diet
• the food or choice or foods to be substituted

The school food service, like the other programs in the school, is responsible for ensuring that its benefits (meals) are made available to all children, including children with disabilities and special dietary requests.  Please send all physician statements to Cheryl A. Poel, Director of Food & Nutrition Services at Spring Lake High School, 16140 148th Avenue, Spring Lake, MI 49456.