Celiac In Schools

Partnering Together To Help Students Stay Safe and Healthy

The School Environment

From daycare to college, the school environment can continue to be a safe place for learning and enrichment but can also be overwhelming without a guide.

Read below for more about 5 things to consider after a Celiac diagnosis:school lunch options, 504 plans for K-12 (with a downloadable template), creating plans for class parties, arts & crafts projects, partnering with teachers.

Educators, from principals, coaches, and district nutrition staff, to teachers, PTA groups, and school nurses, can be wonderful allies. You might invite them to read through this webpage before meeting to partner on creating a safe environment for your child.

School girl holding food tray in school cafeteria

Learn About Options for School Lunch

Talk with the school or district to learn about the school lunch program and gluten-free options in the cafeteria menus. Federal law and USDA regulation require school nutrition programs to make reasonable modifications to accommodate children with disabilities, including allergies and digestive conditions. Public schools must make meal accommodations for breakfast and lunch for children with Celiac disease. To make these accommodations, most schools require a form called Request for Special Dietary Accommodations to be completed by a dietitian or medical provider. Public schools have to offer a nutritionally similar meal, but it can be different than the other meals being offered to the rest of the school children. For example, a gluten-free sunflower butter and jelly sandwich while the regular meal is chicken nuggets and an apple. Schools have to be able to prepare the food safely or ensure that it was prepared safely, which might mean separate cooking/prep areas but not necessarily.

Creating a 504 Plan for K-12

In addition to the Request for Special Dietary Accommodations form, you can also create a 504 plan for your child. This allows for schools to provide special accommodations for your child in the classroom. Ask to speak to the 504 coordinators at your child’s school to learn more about creating this plan. Your child’s medical provider can help provide you with a letter for the school to create this plan for your child.

Examples of accommodations to list in a 504 plan can include:

  • Reasonable food substitutions for meals and snacks offered at schools. Partner with your school district’s registered dietitian or food/nutrition services director to find safe, gluten-free options and alternatives for your child.
  • Training for food service staff and teachers about dietary needs
  • Cross-contact measures: washing classroom or cafeteria tables before and after art projects, meals, and snacks. Separate tables are not needed.
  • A school-to-home communication plan: for food service staff to notify parents about menu changes or setting a gluten-free classroom treat policy and for “room parents” or teachers to directly communicate at least 48-72 hours in advance if events with food will be happening
  • Cross-contact measures: washing classroom or cafeteria tables before and after art projects, meals, and snacks. Separate tables are not needed.
  • Medical emergency plan – to contact family if their child may have ingested gluten
  • Extra time before meals and snacks for your child to wash their hands; unlimited access to a restroom.

Some families choose to pack lunch from home for their children with Celiac disease, but that can be a hardship for many families so do remember that federal law is on your side. 

Here is a sample 504 plan letter for you to download and use to help guide your conversations and partnership with your local school: 504 Letter Template


Have an Alternative Plan for Classroom Parties and Sweets

Sweets and parties frequently happen in school settings. Here are some tips:

  • Talk with teachers about using non-food-based rewards, such as stickers, fun pencil erasers, bubbles, or share a list of common gluten-free snacks
  • If your school allows food/snacks for birthday celebrations, ask for 3-4 days advance notice so that you can send snacks on days that other children will be celebrating. Gluten-free cupcakes and cookies freeze well.
  • If there are other children in the class with Celiac or food restrictions, work with other parents or a Room Parent or teacher to coordinate bringing safe treats for all.

Discuss Arts and Crafts Projects

  • Discuss the importance of gluten-free arts and crafts projects with your child’s teacher or art department. This is especially important for younger kids who are not as aware of cross-contact prevention.
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Talk to Your Child’s Teacher(s) About Celiac Disease