The back-to-school countdown has begun! In the midst of buying new notebooks and planning first-day outfits, parents of children with diabetes have the added responsibility of making sure school management plans are in place and ready to go before the school year begins.
If you are the parent of a child newly diagnosed with diabetes over the summer, this extra layer of school planning may feel overwhelming. What essentials should be on your back-to-school checklist? Here are seven step-by-step ideas for how to get ready before the school bell rings.
Inform your child’s school.
Every child with diabetes has different needs. However, according to Crystal Jackson, Director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School program, the typical first step before a newly diagnosed child returns to school is a phone call or communication with the school to inform administrators and the school nurse about the child’s new health requirements.
In general, schools typically respond to news of a student’s diagnosis by requesting a copy of the doctor’s orders for the child or the child’s diabetes medical management plan (DMMP), a document that outlines not only doctor’s orders concerning diabetes management but also other school-relevant issues, including how skilled the child is with blood sugar checks and other care tasks.
In your initial contact with the school also remember to ask if the school has its own health forms for completion by your child’s treating provider, Jackson recommends. Make sure you contact your child’s provider as early as possible to allow them plenty of time to help you with this paperwork.
If your child attends a public school or private school that receives any federal funding, you have the right to request a 504 Plan to spell out the school’s responsibilities for helping your child manage his or her diabetes during the school day. A 504 Plan can cover everything from providing extra snack times to allowing extra time to finish a test when class time is missed to take care of the child’s diabetes.
School district protocols may vary, but the process for determining eligibility for a 504 Plan typically begins with sending a formal written request to the school principal or designated 504 coordinator. As you embark on this process, “Learn as much as you can about diabetes and about the rights of children with diabetes under federal and state laws,” advises Jackson. She also encourages parents to think about key questions the plan should address, including “Who will provide diabetes care? Where will it occur? How will field trips and extracurricular activities be handled? Will an older child be allowed to self-manage his or her diabetes anywhere, anytime?” If you already have strong feelings on how you want these questions answered, check out “A Better Way to Prep for Your 504 Meeting” for advice on coming to an agreement with the school. In addition, your state may also have laws in place that cover students with diabetes in schools.
Coordinate school diabetes care.
Another important meeting to schedule is one with the school nurse and administrator to review your child’s DMPP (doctor’s orders) and establish how these orders will be carried out. At this meeting, “determine which school employees will be trained, when the training will occur, and who the training facilitator will be,” Jackson says. This meeting also serves as a chance for you to define your role in training staff. Some parents take a hands-on approach while others help with identifying resources, such as a diabetes educator willing to participate or a local pharmacy or health department willing to provide training supplies.
The initial care plan meeting is also an opportunity to review where diabetes supplies will be kept, where and when the student will check blood sugars, how insulin will be administered, emergency care, and who will be trained to provide care when your school nurse isn’t available. During this process, you will likely work very closely with the school nurse. For more on the important role of this school staff member, see “Nurturing Your School Nurse Relationship” or, depending on your situation, “When the School Nurse Is Part Time.”
Prepare for lows.
In addition to collecting meters, test strips, insulin, and other medical supplies to be used at school, put together a number of low-blood-sugar emergency kits containing items such as juice, glucose tabs, and other sources of rapidly absorbed carbohydrates; a sheet listing symptoms of severe low blood sugar; treatment for severe low blood sugar; and emergency care instructions. “Make sure there are ‘low kits’ in areas of the school where your child will be, including the classroom, gym, art room, etc.,” says Jackson. If your child takes the bus, work with school transportation to ensure low blood sugar supplies are available and bus drivers or bus monitors are trained in how to respond to lows.
As you distribute kits, check in with your child’s teachers to gauge their readiness in recognizing symptoms of low blood sugar and how to treat it. “What Your Child’s Teacher Doesn’t Know About Type 1” offers advice from a diabetes mom who is also a teacher on how you can help fill in any knowledge gaps.
Check in with your child.
How is your child feeling about heading back to school? Build up his or her confidence by practicing care tasks at home and, if appropriate, giving your child more independence in carrying out blood sugar checks and other tasks.
Introduce the nurse.
Have your child meet with teachers and the school nurse at or just before the start of school to get acquainted. Talk about the meeting afterward to see if your child has any questions or concerns about how everything will work once school starts.
Explain diabetes to your child’s class.
Friends and classmates who know about diabetes can help spot the signs of high and low blood sugar in your child—and they may be less likely to tease or bully a child about a medical condition when they understand a little more about it. “Talking to Your Child’s Class About Type 1 Diabetes” offers some specific suggestions for putting together a presentation.
For more information on each of these steps, call 1-800-DIABETES or visit Diabetes.org/safeatschool to find free resources from the American Diabetes Association.
Once your preparation is complete, you can rest easier knowing that a plan is in place to help keep your child healthy and safe all year long. This can be very reassuring—for both of you!
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.