School and Diabetes
Schools might be prepared to deal with kids with diabetes, but parents also should be part of the process. This usually means gathering the information that the school needs, making sure that it gets to the right people, and meeting with school officials to discuss their plans. You’ll also need to prepare your child to manage diabetes away from home.
It may sound complicated, but your child’s diabetes health care team can help. And school administrators and nurses often have experience in helping kids with diabetes participate safely and successfully at school.
Working With the School
Most of the things you need to care for your child at home are needed at school, including a specific diabetes management plan, diabetes medications, and testing supplies.
At school, kids might need to:
- check their blood sugar levels
- take insulin or other diabetes medications
- eat snacks when necessary
- eat lunch at a certain time, with plenty of time to finish
- have easy access to water and time to take bathroom breaks
- get physical activity and participate in school events like field trips
- recognize and get treatment for low blood sugar episodes
Diabetes management materials that need to go to school might include:
- testing supplies
- a medical identification bracelet or necklace
You might arrange these items into packages for teachers, the school nurse, coaches, your child, and others.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends giving the school a packet with general diabetes information, including how to recognize and treat hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, in addition to the management plan. Also include emergency contact information for you and other caregivers, your child’s doctor, and other members of the diabetes health care team.
Communicating With Educators
The school staff should be made aware of your child’s diagnosis and current health status. It’s also good to clarify:
- your responsibilities
- the school’s responsibilities
- any accommodations that the school might need to make
To keep the school staff informed, consider reviewing your child’s diabetes management plan with the school annually — or whenever it is updated or changed.
You might also want to meet with school staff, such as the principal, your child’s teachers (including the gym teacher), the school nurse, and any coaches. They will tell you if they need anything else from you. Be sure to ask about their experience and preparedness for dealing with diabetes. Ask questions and let them know if you feel they need to learn more. For example, a staff member who seems unfamiliar with diabetes or is anxious about dealing with it might be too restrictive or make kids with diabetes feel different. You want to build an open exchange with the staff and meet or talk with them regularly to ensure a healthy educational environment for your child.
Diabetes, School, and the Law
Certain laws protect the rights of students with diabetes. Under these laws, diabetes is considered a disability, so it is illegal for schools or childcare centers to discriminate against kids who have it.
In addition, any school that receives federal funding or any facility considered open to the public must reasonably accommodate the special needs of children with diabetes. Teachers and school nurses assess kids individually to determine the best ways to ensure their education while managing the diabetes. The school may be required to create a legal document called a 504 plan that describes how it will meet a child’s needs. You might also get an individualized education plan (IEP) for your child that outlines educational goals and how the school will achieve them.
The school needs to meet your child’s needs within the usual school or classroom setting with as little disruption as possible. This helps prevent kids from feeling different from their peers. The school also must accommodate your child’s needs during activities outside the classroom, such as sports teams or extracurricular clubs.
Some schools have all the staff that’s needed to ensure proper care for kids with diabetes, but others might not. For example, many schools share a nurse with other schools in the district rather than having one available all the time. Be sure that your school addresses how the staff will meet your child’s needs in the classroom and during activities such as field trips.
Finally, your child (and everyone else) has a right to private health information, according to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). But to meet a student’s special needs, school officials and the diabetes health care team might need to share medical information.
Ask the diabetes health care team and school officials if they will share information and how to ensure your child’s privacy. Your doctor and the school might need written permission from you to exchange this information. This is important because if a problem happens, the school staff may need to get information about your child’s health quickly.
Preparing Your Child
Parents often feel nervous about sending a child with diabetes off to school. It’s important to educate kids about diabetes without passing along feelings of fear or nervousness. Kids should understand how to monitor and treat the disease at a level appropriate to their age and development.
Kids need close supervision at school, but they also need to feel that they fit in with their peers. By preparing both the school and your child, you can ease your fears and help your child feel confident.
While at school, kids with diabetes should:
- know whom to contact for help, such as a teacher, nurse, or coach
- know how to handle lunchtime and other eating situations
- have all the supplies and snacks needed to manage diabetes easily
Tell your child to inform you about any issues related to diabetes management at school, and be sure you regularly ask how things are going.
Organizing your child and the school seems like a big project at first, but your child’s doctor and school staff are there to help.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013