What it takes to make school a safe place for students with diabetes

When children head off to school, it’s assumed that they’ll be in a safe place where they’ll be well taken care of. For the most part, that’s the truth. But for children with diabetes, the school environment can pose a serious health risk if there’s no one on site to help them manage their disease.

It’s important for schools to make diabetes safety a priority, as 215,000 children in the U.S. under the age of 20 are living with diabetes. Safe schools are those that have staff who are properly trained in caring for children with diabetes and work with parents and students to manage their disease.

“It’s not only important for a child’s health to have a plan in place that designates a school nurse and other trained staff to help manage his or her diabetes at school, but it’s also essential in ensuring children with diabetes are treated fairly and have the same educational opportunities as their peers,” says Linda M. Siminerio, RN, Ph.D., co-chairperson, American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School Working Group.

The American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School campaign works to educate and train school personnel and parents on how to effectively help children manage their disease at school. According to the Association, effective school-based diabetes management requires three things:

1. Basic diabetes training for all staff

All school staff members who have responsibility for a child with diabetes should receive training that provides a basic understanding of the disease and the child’s needs, how to identify medical emergencies, and which school staff members to contact with questions or in case of an emergency.

2. Shared responsibilities for care, with leadership by school nurses

The school nurse holds the primary role of coordinating, monitoring and supervising the care of a student with diabetes. However, in addition to a school nurse, a small group of school staff members should receive training to provide routine and emergency diabetes care, so that someone is always available for younger or less experienced students who require assistance with their diabetes management and for all children with diabetes in case of an emergency, including administration of glucagon.

3. Self management is allowed in all school settings for students with capacity

Children possessing the necessary skills to do so should be permitted to self-manage their disease in the classroom or wherever they are in conjunction with a school-related activity. Such self-management should include monitoring blood glucose and responding to blood glucose levels with needed food and medication.

Safe at School offers many resources for both school personnel and parents that can help in formulating a care plan for children with diabetes and individual expert help in resolving school diabetes care problems when they occur at www.diabetes.org/sas, or by calling 1-800-DIABETES.

In addition to providing educational resources though the Safe at School campaign, the American Diabetes Association also works to advocate for better policies to help children with diabetes. For example, the Association recently successfully advocated for the passage of laws in Connecticut, Louisiana and Georgia that ensure that children get the care they need, whether it’s provided by the school nurse or another trained school staff member. In addition, these new laws permit capable students to self-manage their diabetes.

The Association also provides assistance to families whose children are not getting care at school – such as Latesha Taylor’s nine year old daughter Loretta, a Washington, D.C., public school student, who was made to stay home whenever the school nurse was absent. The Association is now in the process of resolving the Taylor complaint and working with her school system to develop a district-wide policy to ensure that D.C. Public School students with diabetes will be able to attend and receive care at school even when the school nurse isn’t there.

Before parents of children with diabetes send them off to school, it’s important to communicate with school staff to make sure written plans are in place. The American Diabetes Association is ready to help parents to develop care plans to make certain that your child is getting the proper care and treated fairly at school, which will provide your child the best chance for good health and educational success.