It’s safe to say the past few months have been nothing short of life-altering. As an educator, I would be lying if I said it hasn’t taken a toll on me. I’ve said it before, and will always acknowledge, that my students are the reason I love my job. Their short time with me this past year was not enough. I was robbed. We didn’t say goodbye properly, no one warned us this was coming, and we definitely did not feel closure of any kind. However, as a parent, I feel thankful — thankful that my own children (one of whom, Rush, has type 1 diabetes) were given the opportunity to be at home with me, continue to learn, and stay healthy.
As both a parent of a child with an underlying medical condition and an educator entrusted with other people’s children, I feel it’s critical to discuss the significance of your child’s 504 plan as we head back to school this year.
First and foremost, as a parent, I ask you to be vigilant and work together in the best interests of your child. We all want the best possible treatment for our child at school, and we worry it will not measure up to what we could do for them at home.
As an educator, I also ask you to remember that your child’s teachers and school staff want what is best for your child, just like you. We not only want them to feel safe and healthy, but we want them to learn, grow, and achieve as well. In a previous blog, I mentioned my co-parenting setup with my son, Rush. I work as a teacher at the high school level, his father is a district director of pupil personnel, his stepdad is an elementary school assistant principal, and his stepmom is an elementary school teacher. We are all up in the educational realm! When working together with my co-parenting unit, we listened, discussed, and analyzed possible scenarios to determine the best plan of action for Rush in the building. We determined ways to bring his blood sugar up when low, how to accommodate his highs, who would be trained to administer emergency treatment for low blood sugar, and where his supplies would be when needed in a hurry.
This was not a quick process, and I must add that experience from the nurse was extremely helpful. Listen to what the school staff think “works” and why something may “not work.” For example, before he started using a pump, Rush was receiving injections at each meal. He was also receiving finger sticks to check his blood sugar up to 12 times per day. At home, this is manageable. At school, we quickly realized this was a great deal of time out of the classroom. As a teacher, my first concern was keeping him in as normal a setting as possible where he could focus on his classwork. So we developed a better schedule where Rush would only receive finger sticks at certain times, when it was necessary, as he left for lunch, recess, or specials.
As a high school teacher, I work with students with type 1 diabetes on a daily basis, and they are mostly self-managed. However, younger students must have nurse assistance, and this can at times become a distraction if done in the classroom. Admittedly, it took us three years to realize that placing juice boxes and gummies in the room with the teacher would allow for less out-of-class time for Rush. It will be up to you and the school 504 team to determine how to best care for your child, while ensuring the learning process is interrupted as little as possible.
Make an effort to find out the snack and lunch schedule prior to the first day of school. Mimic this schedule for a few weeks at home to determine if adjustments will need to be made to insulin doses. As for additional accommodations, be specific. If you’re used to a routine that works, suggest it. If you know your child needs a specific snack at a certain time, say so. Educators and administrators are open to any and all helpful information to keep your child in his or her best health.
In our current state, it may be necessary to take extra precautions to accommodate for COVID-19 exposure to minimize the chances of your child’s health being compromised. Personally, I am unsure about the upcoming year. I know that I want my son to be in school, healthy, happy, and learning from his teacher. As an educator, I know that there’s no better place for children to learn than in a classroom with peers. Interaction for all young children is key to growth and development. However, as a parent, I worry that exposure to others with possible COVID-19 symptoms or cases in their families could put him more at risk. My plan is to meet with my child’s 504 team prior to school to map out a detailed explanation of how his care will continue during this unprecedented time.
The pandemic has thrown us all a curveball. To start, your 504 meeting may need to be done virtually. It’s very important during virtual meetings to ensure all parties are heard so that nothing is misunderstood. As D-parents, we know to be extremely cautious about exposure to germs since our babies have an underlying medical condition already. But they also have unique needs due to the daily care tasks required by type 1 diabetes. For example, it may be necessary to detail in our 504 plan how our son will conduct his day with a mask on at all times, if that becomes school policy. Will he be allowed to remove his mask in the classroom when drinking juice or eating snacks for lows? Will he travel to the nurse to do that, or will the nurse come to him?
In addition to answering these questions, identify the way in which you’ll communicate with the school about your child’s daily blood sugar numbers and trends. Some use forms they fill out each day; some send an email or call only if there is a concern. But overall, you can trust that the team is doing what is best for your child. Our family learned very early on that over communicating does nothing for your peace of mind, but it can take time away from the nurses and teachers trying to do the important work of educating and keeping your child healthy each day.
As we return to school, in whatever form it may be, the most important thing to focus on is our children’s health, safety, and education. It’s my hope that this post has given you a tiny bit of insight into what both a fellow T1D parent and your child school’s staff may be considering. Let’s have a great year!
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.