Q: Our school sent home a letter explaining that a new, more elaborate emergency “lockdown” plan will be put in place. How can I make sure my son’s diabetes is taken into consideration in emergency preparedness at school?
A: During a school lockdown, students generally stay put in whatever classroom or area of the school (library, gym, etc.) they find themselves in and remain there with their teacher or a supervising adult until further instruction is given. With lockdown drills becoming commonplace in schools, you’re right to be concerned about how your child’s type 1 diabetes needs will be met during a practice drill and, of course, in the event of a real emergency.
With safety planning varying widely from school district to school district, it’s a reassuring sign that your child’s school is making you aware of this change in policy, which gives you a chance to plan and prepare. If you haven’t done so already, get in contact with a school administrator to discuss the specifics of the new plan. How frequently will lockdown drills be practiced? Where will students go during the lockdown — will they stay put in their own classroom or move to a different location? What happens if a student is in the hallway on the way to or from the nurse’s office or is using the restroom at the time the lockdown begins?
Once you’ve collected this information, it’s then time to revisit your child’s 504 Plan to put in writing how he will be able to access needed supplies during a lockdown or other emergency situation. The key here is to come up with safe, practical solutions that will be easy to carry out. For example, at minimum, all teachers and school staff who interact with your child — including any adults who might find themselves in charge of your child during a lockdown — should have a basic understanding of diabetes and how to recognize and treat low blood sugar.
It is equally critical that carbohydrate-containing snacks and water always be accessible to your child, ideally in each room he travels to throughout the school day. To cover this base, many parents make simple kits containing water and a rapidly-absorbed carbohydrate and distribute them to classrooms as well as the library, gym, and main office. Children can keep additional emergency supplies (water and carbohydrates) tucked away in their backpacks, and the teachers can be made aware that these supplies are there. Your child should also have access to his blood glucose meter; a meter can be kept in the classroom or with your child once he gains a degree of independence.
What about insulin? While it would be ideal to have insulin always accessible, this can be very difficult to achieve in a classroom lockdown situation. Talk to the school nurse about how access to insulin will be managed. To start, find out the nurse’s emergency plan for bringing along students’ health-related supplies in the event that students must evacuate the building. If your school doesn’t have a nurse on staff, decide with administrators who in the building will be responsible for insulin in case of an emergency evacuation and add it to your child’s written plan.
It goes without saying that no one wants any of these emergency contingencies to ever be needed, and hopefully they will not be. But in case they are, a little planning can go a long way in providing for peace of mind and student safety.
–Crystal Jackson is director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School program.
How Other Parents Deal
“At school, we have our 6-year-old daughter carry a little purse with a pouch of juice and some hard candies in it. She takes it off at gym, and at recess she has the monitor hold it so she’s able to play. We also have an extra meter, snacks and water stashed in her backpack, and the teacher has a meter and strips in her desk, along with more low blood sugar supplies. No one can predict what will happen in an actual emergency, but for now, I feel like we’re doing the best we can.”
–Yvonne, mom of 6-year-old Logan
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.