Gluten Free School Lunch

The American Celiac Disease Alliance has an interesting web page up about a law forbidding discrimination against people with disabilities. They suggest that this law can be used to get federally funded lunch for low income children with celiac disease. The law, 29 USC Sec. 794, states:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.

The ACDA explains that the National School Lunch Program is one of these federally funded programs that cannot discriminate against people with a disability—in this case, celiac disease. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program that provides low-cost or free lunches to those students whose family incomes are at or below 130 percent of the poverty level; reduced-price lunches are offered to those students whose family incomes are between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture document, Accomodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs:

Substitutions to the regular meal must be made for children who are unable to eat school meals because of their disabilities, when that need is certified by a licensed physician.

To get your child signed up for federally funded gluten-free (or GFCF) lunches, follow these steps:

  1. Contact your school and tell them you are requesting a 504 evaluation for your child.
  2. Give the evaluation team documentation of a) the child’s celiac disease b) why celiac disease restricts your child’s diet c) how your child’s ability to work and learn at school are affected by celiac disease d) which foods must be omitted e) foods that can be substituted for omitted food f) a specific form some states require your child’s doctor to fill out e) providing a model 504 plan might be necessary
  3. Possibly attend the meeting of the school evaluation team.

In some states like New York you do not have to be low income for your child to receive school lunch—you simply pay full price for the school to provide a GF lunch, or in some cases a GF breakfast, to your child. Check on the laws about school lunch in your state.