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School Law Guide: Research Problem #1

Research Problem #1

Parent has a six year old child with a severe nut allergy. The allergy is severe enough where even nuts opened in the same room typically cause an allergic reaction. With air exposure the child typically goes into shock, and without quick treatment her allergic reaction becomes life threatening. However, even with this, the parent is a strong advocate of the public school system, and does not want her child to be placed in a “special class” away from all the other children. The parent is adamant about making sure the school finds a solution that will maximize the student’s well-being in the school. This not only includes looking out for the safety of the child and making sure he receives an adequate education, but also making sure he has a sufficient social life and can still connect well with other students.

The parent believes the easiest way to make sure the child can still participate in all school functions is to have a school-wide ban on nuts. Doing this would give the child a great deal of freedom, and nobody would have to worry about his life threatening allergy. This school wide ban would include all nut-based food products, like peanut butter. What are the chances of getting a school-wide ban? Assuming you are representing the parent, what course of action would you take to ensure a successful long term solution?

Research Strategy

When looking at the problem you should be able to figure out that this case revolves around a student seeking an accommodation of some sort from the school district. Therefore, you will need to look at secondary sources pertaining to student rights. When searching through various student rights you should be able to connect the dots and realize that the student here has a potential disability. If the student is determined to be disabled, there are various federal statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that come into play. Secondary sources should also point you towards Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Once you have a general idea of what federal statutes will help the student, you can either look directly at the statute to see if it applies, or continue to read through secondary sources. Many secondary sources, such as the MSTA website, provide step by step guidance for the definition of a disability and how a student can use federal statutes to obtain a reasonable accommodation.

Some secondary resources and case law may provide you with practical ideas on how to reach a compromise in this situation. It is likely that the child is legally entitled to some sort of accommodation from the school, but not to the extent the parent desires. Therefore, as an attorney you need to come up with solutions that will make both parties happy in order to resolve the dispute. School districts’ websites or DESE’s website should provide solutions to this problem that you can suggest to the parties.

An article written, titled School Accommodations for Food Allergic Students, provides good insight on the logistics and steps that can be taken to get a student accommodations under Section 504. (Ralph E. Cash, School Accommodations for Food Allergic Students, http://www.acaai.org/allergist/Resources/letters/Pages/SchoolAccommodationsforFoodAllergicStudents.aspx.) A resource like this can be found through a typical Google search.