When you have a child with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, a little extra planning will help keep your child healthy and happy at school. The sooner you start, the better, but it’s never too late, even when school is just around the corner.
Each school, school district, and family are different, but there are generally several departments and individuals at your child’s school or district that you will want to connect with: School Administration/Principal; Teacher(s); School Nurse; and Food Service Staff/Dietitian.
If your child will be starting out at a new school and you don’t yet know who their teacher(s) will be, this is absolutely where to start. But even if you do know, touching base with school administrators is beneficial. Explain your child’s diagnosis and need for a gluten-free diet; then ask some questions:
- Are teachers in the school familiar with the needs of gluten-free kids and how to keep them safe in their classrooms?
- If you are interested in establishing a 504 plan, ask for details on the school’s procedure and how to start the process. (More information on 504 Plans: gluten.org/kids/504-plan/)
- Does the school have a nurse on site? Or is there a district nurse who visits the school occasionally? Is the nurse familiar with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, and have they received any related training? Ask for contact information so you can communicate directly with the nurse.
- Does the school food service offer gluten-free meals? Does the food service have a dietitian on staff? Request contact information for food service director and/or dietitian.
- How does the school deal with bullying related to special diets?
Meeting with your child’s teacher(s)
- Print these useful documents that GIG has available and take them with you: “Letter to Teacher (gluten.org/kids/letter-to-teacher/; can be individualized to your child), and “Understanding Your Student” (gluten.org/kids/understanding-your-student/). Explain your child’s need to be gluten-free while reviewing these documents together.
- If a 504 plan has been established, teachers should be aware and this can be reviewed. If a 504 plan is in progress, the teacher may be involved; if not, let them know this is in progress.
- Ask about classroom policy on snacks in the classroom and about special occasion foods for birthday parties and other celebrations and events. Ask to bring in a small stash of non-perishable gluten-free treats that the teacher can keep for your child for these kinds of occasions. Let them know that sharing of food with classmates will generally be off-limits.
- For younger kids: ask about craft activities that might involve gluten-containing items like Play-Doh or macaroni. Explain that your child will need alternatives.
Meeting with the school nurse
- Depending on the age of your child and their reaction to consuming gluten, you may or may not feel this is necessary. Especially recommended for younger children, kids who are new to the gluten-free diet, and those who have significant short-term symptoms when exposed to gluten.
- Is the nurse familiar with celiac disease/ gluten sensitivity? Let them know that GIG has many resources available on our website, where they can find details. (gluten.org/resources/getting-started/celiac-disease-2/; gluten.org/resources/getting-started/celiac-disease-non-celiac-sensitivity-or-wheat-allergy-what-is-the-difference/)
- Let the nurse know what your child’s symptoms are when gluten is ingested, and that symptoms may be subtle.
- Inform the nurse that GIG has a school nurse outreach program and that we would like to provide information that will help them support families and kids who need to be gluten-free.
Let your school nurse know that he or she can sign up here (or, you can provide the nurse’s information yourself), and we’ll be sure that resources are provided:
School District *
Meeting with food service staff/dietitian
- Are gluten-free meals/items offered in the cafeteria?
- Do they have policies and procedures in place to safely provide gluten-free food without cross-contamination?
- Will someone be in charge of helping younger children choose the proper meal/foods?
- Will someone in the cafeteria monitor younger children at tables to make sure they are not trading food items with other children?
- Ask for a list of packaged snack/food items which the food service has available that may be provided for class parties or similar events. Pre-approve those which are gluten-free and safe for your child. (May not apply to all schools.)