From the first day they board the big yellow bus, kids spend almost a third of their waking hours in the classroom. So it’s no wonder that diabetes management in school is a huge priority—and concern—for parents. Fortunately, a document called a 504 Plan can be created to help ensure that your school knows what your child needs.

Children with diabetes are protected by federal law, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This means that after developing a medical management plan with your child’s healthcare provider, you can arrange for services for your child through written agreements with the school known as a Section 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). (However, if your child goes to a private school, it may not be required to comply with Section 504 if it doesn’t receive federal funds or services. Check with school administrators to find out.)

It’s important to know that your child has a right to the same access to education as children without diabetes. A 504 Plan spells out how this will be accomplished by your particular school, based on your child’s individual needs. For example, a 504 Plan for a child with diabetes might include agreements that he or she will be allowed to: do blood sugar checks; treat hypoglycemia; inject insulin when necessary; eat snacks when necessary; eat lunch at an appropriate time and have enough time to finish the meal; have free and unrestricted access to water and the bathroom; and participate fully in physical education class and other extracurricular activities, including field trips. Individual states may have additional laws regulating the education of children with diabetes.

Moira McCarthy, whose daughter has type 1 diabetes, says, “My daughter was diagnosed with type 1 at the beginning of kindergarten. I realized quickly that you need to get your school on your team. A lot of people don’t understand type 1, so you need to get a 504 in place as soon as possible.”

Here are McCarthy’s additional top seven tips:

  • Download the School Advisory Toolkit from the JDRF Web site to assist you in helping the teacher and the nurse understand the 504 Plan. Also check out the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School page.
  • Ask to know who your child’s teacher will be the spring before the new school year starts. Work with the teacher, the principal and the nurse to ensure they have adequate diabetes information. You can offer to help educate the staff.
  • Educate the other kids in class as soon as possible. “In the beginning, I would bring in Rufus, the JDRF bear, along with a couple of children’s books about type 1,” McCarthy recalls. “We would read the stories, and then my daughter would show her pump and check her blood sugar in front of everyone. Right away, it demystified it, and it was okay. By the time they were in fifth or sixth grade, her classmates were all mini-diabetes experts.”
  • Emphasize that if your child doesn’t feel well or has low blood sugar, your child shouldn’t be alone, for example, walking to the nurse’s office on his or her own, in case he or she needs help.
  • Figure out where kids can check blood glucose. Ideally, this can be done in the classroom, however in some states, students aren’t allowed to carry diabetes supplies with them, so they’ll have to go to the nurse.
  • Make sure there’s a plan in place if your child has an emergency on the playground, on field trips, or other school sponsored events. (Your 504 Plan should lay out how and by whom high, low, and severely low blood sugar will be treated in situations such as this.)
  • Talk to your school about the lunch program and get estimated carb counts.

Sending your child off on his or her own for the day can be daunting for any parent. But by working together with teachers, administrators, school nurses, and the diabetes care team, and following these pointers, school can be a happy—and healthy—place for your child with type 1 diabetes.

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.

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