MADISON — A Boone County mother said a federally funded summer program discriminated against her son when they said he could no longer attend because of his food allergy.
Michelle Akers Ford’s 8-year-old son Thaddeus loves the summer because it means he gets to go to the AmeriCorps Energy Express program at Ramage Elementary. This year made the third year in a row that he has participated in the activity.
But last week Ford said something happened that broke his heart.
“He was met in the parking lot and told that he would be excluded because of food allergies,” she said.”He wasn’t permitted in the building.”
Thaddeus had been there the first four days of the program. But on this day program leaders demanded that Ford have her son’s doctor fill out a form outlining his dietary needs. Ford said she was also told to get a statement from his doctor saying that it was safe for Thaddeus to be in the building.
“It was devastating for him. He did not understand,” Ford said.
She said the two previous years the form had not been required. She said when she filled out the original application this year she noted what foods Thaddeus should avoid. By the time she found out the form would be required she said it was too late to get an appointment with the doctor.
“The program cannot discriminate against a child for a disability, his food allergy being one of them,” Ford said. “My son’s rights were discriminated against.”
West Virginia Department of Education Communication Office Executive Director Liza Cordeiro said the Department of Education has been made aware of the situation. “The federal program does require that any child with severe allergies provide the form. The form lists the foods that the child is allergic to and what other foods can be substituted,” Cordeiro said. “For the health and safety of the child, the food program administrators need to know exactly what the child can eat.”
Ford said that she or Thaddeus’ father were always present for his meals while participating in Energy Express activities. She said one of them always accompanied him if he was getting items provided by the program.
“His father and I purchase the food, we pack his lunch and breakfast and extra items that supplement what the program has that are safe foods,” Ford said.
Energy Express leaders declined to comment on this matter. Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson said the school system follows requirements for enrollment and participation in all summer programs. He would not go into more detail about this particular situation.
Ford said she is fighting not just for her own son but for other children with food allergies and other disabilities.
She has contacted agencies on the local, state and federal level regarding the incident.