Academic journal article Southern Law Journal

Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodations Act on School-Based Food Allergy Management

Academic journal article Southern Law Journal

Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act Accommodations Act on School-Based Food Allergy Management

Article excerpt


Although the cause remains unclear, research shows an increase over the past twenty years in the number of children suffering from food allergies.1 From 1997 to 2007 alone, the number of children with food allergies increased by 18%.2 According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, approximately 3 million school-aged children are now experiencing food allergies.3 When school nurses were surveyed, 94% responded that their school(s) had at least one child with a food allergy, and 71% reported that it was burdensome to properly manage student food allergies.4

With the rise of food allergies in school-aged children, the need for realistic, yet medically-adequate school-based food allergy management procedures has garnered substantial public attention. Numerous private organizations and public agencies have responded to the medical concern by developing model guidelines for schoolhouse allergy management, and federal and state governments have acted legislatively to address the schoolhouse health concerns of food-allergic students.5 The most impactful legislative change occurred in 2008 when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act ("ADAAA") to provide broader coverage under the ADA.6 The amendments added by the ADAAA have greatly strengthened the legal protections for food-allergic students, arguably ending the debate as to whether life-threatening food allergies qualify as a legally-protected disability.

Despite the enhanced legal protections and the proliferation of free, educational materials outlining the necessary elements of an effective allergy management plan, numerous recent studies indicate that school food allergy practices continue to be riddled with implementation gaps that undermine the effectiveness of accommodation attempts.7 In one study, 65% of school nurses admitted a lack of confidence in the school's ability to effectively manage student food allergies.8

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the ADAAA strengthens disability protection for food-allergic students, identify common implementation gaps in school-based food allergy management practices, and review best practices for daily management of student food allergies. In order to provide a background for the discussion of student food allergies, Section II begins with an explanation of the cause, medical symptoms and treatment for food allergies. Section III reviews the educational rights provided by federal and state law, and includes analysis of how the ADAAA has increased the educational protections for food-allergic students. Section IV shifts focus from legal requirements of allergy management to the proper and practical aspects of providing a safe environment for food-allergic children.


Food allergies develop when the immune system misinterprets food as a harmful substance.9 Although eight foods (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish) are attributed with causing 90% of all food-allergic reactions,10 it is important for school personnel to understand that an individual can develop an allergy to any food item.11 Whenever the food allergen is ingested, the body releases chemicals to attack the food, causing the person to experience an allergic reaction. The severity of an allergic reaction can range from minor to a severe, life-threatening form of hypersensitivity called anaphylaxis.12 Symptoms of a minor reaction include itching, rashes, congestion or even watery eyes.13 Anaphylaxis, however, impacts multiple organ systems, occurs rapidly, often within minutes after allergen exposure,14 and can be fatal if treatment is delayed.15 Studies indicate that anaphylactic reactions, triggered by food allergies, cause approximately 150-200 deaths each year.16

Because delayed treatment increases the risk of death, educators should be trained to quickly identify the physical signs that are indicative of an anaphylactic reaction. …

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