Food Allergy in Schools: Know Your Rights

With the new school year approaching, there has been a lot of discussion on our children’s rights in the school setting and the necessity of 504’s, IEPs. We would like to introduce fellow PAK member, Carrie Merner. Carrie will be our guest speaker in January for a Food Allergy in Schools; Know Your Rights meeting to inform and empower parents to advocate for their food allergic children.   In the meantime, we want to pass along Carrie’s information…
From Carrie…”I am in the process of formulating my own business to provide assistance to parents to advocate for 504 Plans under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as well as Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) under the IDEA.  I would like to offer my experience in this area to PAK members and wanted to provide my contact information, Although I intend to ultimately charge for this service, I am willing to take a few pro bono cases.  This will provide experienced help to others and build my portfolio and reputation here in NC with positive recommendations and contacts.
I am an attorney and practiced in the State of NJ, as well as a former NC teacher.  I have extensive experience as a child advocate and assisting parents and children in formulating Section 504 Plans and IEPs. 
·         I began my career as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in Guilford and Winston-Salem/Forsyth Counties here in NC.  I taught for 4 years and was both Math and Science Rookie Teacher of the Year in Guilford County. 
·         I attended Seton Hall Law after relocating with my husband to New Jersey.  I am licensed to practice in the State of NJ.
·         While attending Seton Hall Law, I was involved with Advocates for Children of NY to help represent indigent children and their parents against the NYC school system to formulate 504 Plans and IEPs, among other things. Legal action against the NYC school system was sometimes brought forth via Hearings and Federal Court, to make certain that individual's rights and special needs were being met under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the IDEA.  My years of teaching combined with my knowledge of the law were put to good use. 
·         Law Clerk for the Hon. Lisa Crystal in Family Court, Union County, New Jersey.
·         I served as a NJ Deputy Attorney General (DAG) and represented the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) with abuse, neglect and termination of parental rights matters. 
·         I later served as a Law Guardian in the Office of the Public Defender.  NJ is one of only a handful of states in the nation that assigns children in foster care their own attorneys to truly represent the legal interests of the child.  In this capacity, I did much more than just attend abuse and neglect hearings and Termination Parental Rights trials on their behalf.  I frequently advocated  to make certain that these children's educational and special needs were being met in the public school setting. 
In short, my professional career has been focused on the education and rights of children.  As a parent, I find myself continuing to advocate for my own children's special needs. We relocated to NC last July 2014 from NJ.  I have secured a 504 Plan for my rising Kindergartner who has severe food allergies to milk, peanuts, tree nuts and egg with a history of multiple anaphylactic reactions.  I have also secured an IEP under the IDEA for my oldest. 
In addition to getting my family newly settled, I joined NC Parents Advocating for School Health's (NCPASH) fight for school nurses. I assisted by creating and maintaining a website for NCPASH, actively advocated to and engaged with elected officials, attended speaking engagements, spoke to the press and provided general support and marketing materials. I am currently working to engage the Town of Davidson and Cornelius Parks and Recreation to assist with a better food allergy aware policy."