The Honorable Arne Duncan
The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Washington DC 20202
Dear Mr. Secretary,
The U.S. public school system operates in the midst of a rapidly unfolding health epidemic affecting every classroom in America. Food allergies and anaphylaxis, a life threatening medical condition, affect approximately one in thirteen children, roughly two children per classroom. The ADAAA recognizes anaphylaxis as a disability.
Despite these serious statistics, no federally mandated guidelines exist to instruct our public schools how to meet the legal requirement of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for this population of medically vulnerable students ensuring both safety and maximum inclusion in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 offers disabled students protections intended to afford equal access. Unfortunately, a large and growing number of families are discouraged to find Section 504 services subject to creative interpretation like window dressing in a department store: attractive from the outside, yet representing a false reality. Lacking proper guidance, many schools implement uninformed accommodations which ultimately fail to effectively support students. Students are at risk of immediate harm and excluded from school activities with no effective recourse.
Procedural safeguards such as Due Process are ineffective when balanced against the immediate need for student safety. Innumerable families are abandoning public education rather than endure the lengthy, time consuming negotiations and cost required to secure medically necessary accommodations for their children. Education is compulsory, yet schools are largely unsafe for four percent (2 million) of our nation's fifty million public schooled children. We believe this is the most important civil rights issue facing this generation. Most accommodations recommended by experts and physicians can be implemented at no cost to a school.
We urge the U.S. Department of Education to adopt guidelines developed by knowledgeable experts in the field of anaphylaxis medicine and education, and to relieve the burden of identifying appropriate placement from the shoulders of unqualified, medically untrained school personnel; Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Education Programs developed by the CDC, if adopted by the DOE as mandatory, would ensure uniformity and provide a useful tool for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to measure a school's compliance with federal disability laws. Mandatory guidelines would also reduce the number of discrimination complaints filed with OCR.
In addition, we respectfully request a “Dear Colleague” letter be addressed from the Department of Education to schools explaining their legal obligations to remove the barriers to access e.g., allergens, from the learning environments of food allergic/anaphylactic students (as detailed in the above referenced CDC document) thus allowing them access to the same academic and extra curricular success as their non-disabled peers.