Taking Diabetes to School

Young school aged children

School-aged children or teens spend over half of their waking hours in school. Diabetes education is important for everyone who comes in contact with the child or teen, including teachers, school staff, bus drivers, afterschool staff, coaches and P.E. teachers. The education of a child with diabetes is dependent upon the cooperation of the following:

  • The parents or guardians
  • School personnel including teachers, aides, coaches, school (or district) nurse, bus drivers, principals and counselors
  • The child or teen’s health care team (doctor, endocrinologist, etc.)
  • The child or teen

It is important to note that it is the parent or guardian’s responsibility to notify school personnel that their child or teen has diabetes, provide the school with a copy of the doctor’s orders and supply the necessary diabetes supplies (meter, strips, snacks for low blood sugar, a kit for high blood sugar and a glucagon emergency kit, etc.). It is also important that school personnel understand that snacks and BG testing and treatment are part of the child or teen’s medical care – they are not an option. Schools that adopt a caring attitude, allow the student to test and treat BG in the classroom as needed and provide a supportive environment have the best success with students who have diabetes.

Testing blood glucose is one of the most important facets of diabetes management. Regular BG checks, up to several per day, may be ordered by the child or teen’s diabetes health care team before and after eating snacks and meals or before PE or other physical activity. Students should also be tested if they feel their BG is low or high, or if they display symptoms of high or low blood glucose.

In some children and teens, symptoms may be hard to detect: the parent may be able to describe how their child acts when their blood glucose is low or high to give the school diabetes team a better clue as to what a child’s personal reaction to highs and lows look like.

In-class testing is preferred – this prevents lost educational time due to walking down to the office, testing and walking back. Those minutes add up! Testing in class also allows for other students to learn about diabetes management and act as extra sets of eyes for the teacher to help keep the student with diabetes safe at school.

Many students can check their own blood glucose level and should be encouraged to do so to promote independence. Other students will need supervision. Younger students or those reluctant to test themselves may need the task performed by a school nurse or trained school personnel. Remember – any student with diabetes may need assistance if they are experiencing low blood glucose (hypoglycemia), even those who can usually perform their own blood glucose monitoring.

The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi can help with a free training program available upon request. DFM volunteers will go to your school or daycare center to present an in-service “Sweet Subject School Diabetes Education” program. The presentation lasts about 45 minutes with additional time provided for questions. We will provide the school or daycare with an emergency box with a blood glucose meter and supplies to treat high and low blood glucose is there are students with diabetes.

Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel 2010 ed.

This book is a great resource! There are discussion on responsibilities of parents, school administration, school staff and the student. There is also information on Section 504 compliance and many helpful guidelines, sample care plans and forms to give the school. Get a free print copy or read online, click here.

Parents and schools might wish to download a copy of the publication. Please note – it is 154 pages: PDF Download

Responsibility Guidelines

A child’s ability to deal with diabetes varies with age, but age alone does not tell you when a child is ready to independently assume tasks. These guidelines have been adapted from Understanding Diabetes: A Handbook for People who Are Living with Diabetes. Remember that diabetes is a “family disease” and is handled best when families work together and help share the responsibility. You can purchase the Pink Panther books by clicking here.

Daycare

The child may begin to cooperate with diabetes-related tasks but is unable to perform them independently. Normally, young children with diabetes do not recognize symptoms or low blood glucose, or they aren’t able to communicate to others when they are feeling “low.” Therefore, it is extremely important to check your child’s blood glucose level often. Oftentimes, young children are frightened by finger sticks and insulin shots and may try to avoid or delay getting them.

Elementary School

The child is learning how to recognize low blood sugar symptoms and can cooperate with all diabetes-related tasks. Young children (ages 5-7) should be able to: draw up insulin of one type, give themselves shots under close supervision, and perform blood glucose testing with assistance. Diabetes camps and support groups are great for children of this age to help them understand life with diabetes as well as normalize their experience with other kids their age.

Middle School or Junior High School

The child should recognize symptoms of high and low blood sugar and know when to monitor it. Unless they are newly diagnosed, an adolescent should be able to administer their own insulin and keep a blood glucose log book. Changes in dosage require adult supervision. Children 12 years or older should discuss their diabetes directly with their doctor and work with healthcare professionals in developing a diabetes management plan.

High School

For the teenager with diabetes, having to take insulin, check blood glucose and follow a meal plan can be a challenge and often compounds normal difficulties with being a teen. It is normal for a teen with diabetes to ease up on diabetes care and try to act like everyone else. The teen years are a time of testing limits, so don’t be surprised if your teen tests his/her diabetes limits at some point. Teens may refuse to adhere to their eating plan, skip insulin injections or stop checking their blood glucose. In some cases, the natural consequences of these actions (serious hypoglycemic reactions or hospitalization for DKA) discourage teens from continuing these habits.

College

College Diabetes Network. Stay informed as you head out of the nest and onto campus! Currently, not Mississippi schools have CDN chapters – the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi is ready to help start a chapter on campus! Call us at 601-957-7878 or toll free at 877-DFM-CURE (336-2873).

Advocacy for Students with Diabetes

The Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi works with families of children with diabetes, schools and daycare programs around Mississippi to ensure that everyone understands basic diabetes management and emergency treatment of low or high blood glucose. Our “Sweet Subject School Diabetes Education Program” has trained hundreds of school and daycare staff about managing diabetes when the child or teen is away from home. Several federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protect students with diabetes while at school or daycare.

Section 504 and ADA Compliance

The 504 plan is an agreement worked out with the student, parents/guardians, teachers and other school personnel, and if needed, the district administration, to make sure that everyone involved knows their roles and responsibilities in assuring the safety and education of the student. All public and private schools and daycare receiving federal funds are covered by this law.

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) also covers the student with diabetes. The ADA covers all public schools and all private schools except those run by religious institutions. (If the religious institution receives federal funds, it is also covered).