Though we're still in the summer months, the school bell is already ringing in many places to mark back-to-school time for kids and parents. While many parents are likely relieved to "get a break" and have their kids back in class, this can be a very stressful experience for the parents of Children With Diabetes (CWDs) who have a LOT more to worry about than just textbooks and extracurricular activities.
Bennet Dunlap, dad to four great kids (two living with type 1 diabetes), has been through the back-to-school routine over and over. Now, he's using his experience and passion for advocacy to help out the American Diabetes Association on its Safe at Schools program. Today, he makes a guest appearance to tell us what that's all about:
A Guest Post by Bennet Dunlap
We're fortunate to have a community full of diabetes education resources, but I believe education is critical not only for diabetes but more broadly in life. So, putting my time where my mouth is, I just finished a Master's degree in health communication at Boston University. It's no surprise that among the key diabetes issues I am passionate about is kids being safe in school.
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I want to bring the ideas of strong diabetes community and safe education together to help motivate action. In doing so, I am standing with good friends. For example, Hallie Addington wrote the guest post "Off to School with Diabetes" here at the 'Mine last summer. More recently, D-Advocate Scott Johnson wrote a piece on his blog titled, "Safe At School? Outrage in Education is More Like It!" motivated by the cover story by Tracey Neithercott in the current ADA magazine Diabetes Forecast.
If you haven't yet read that story, let me share some of the highlights... or maybe tragic low points is a better term than highlights.
Latesha Taylor is a single mom trying to work and support her lovely daughter Loretta. Loretta was diagnosed type 1 diabetes eight years ago. Raising a child with type 1 is hard enough. Sadly, the Washington D.C. public schools made it harder.
When the school nurse was out of the building, the school called mom to come take daughter out of school. If the nurse was on vacation, Latesha either ad to come to provide care on-site herself or her daughter Loretta had to leave school. This happened frequently enough that Latesha lost her job for being absent too often from work!
I have some personal experience with schools that don't get it. Our kids were told they could not attend the school due to their diabetes. Can you imagine?! It was the darkest time of my life. Fortunately the board of our school took steps to ensure that all kids were medically safe at school. I feel for the Taylors. I believe that empathy is the ability to honor another person's suffering without giving them a trite formula. We can honor how hard it is for them day-to-day and be moved to help.
I definitely know how hard every day is for the Taylor family. I know Loretta wants to be with her friends learning. I know she feels hurt, confused and isolated by diabetes. I know this because my kids felt the same way. Our support can help, but as Latesha Taylor has found, the struggle to do the right thing is hard.
There is no simple solution to helping children with diabetes be safe at school. As I mentioned: no trite formula. It will take more than my family or the Taylor family to make all schools safe. It will take an active community. Us — you, me and every reader of the 'Mine, Scott's Diabetes and every other DOC publication.
There are some first steps that we can all take, like signing the ADA's safe at school pledge and connecting with their Safe at School program.
Both are great starts. While there are national laws that should protect kids in school, it's clear from the Taylor case that those laws are not always followed. Individual state law plays a big role.
And then there's the whole issue of Insulin in California Schools.... a topic that involves questions about school nurses and how CWDs are taken care of in classroom. Like California, many other states prohibit the school nurse from delegating the administration of insulin or glucagon to anyone else, but kids obviously still need insulin when the nurse is out (or when there is no school nurse!). That issue is one of national importance that's still being worked out.
While a professional school nurse is the best person to help students, not all schools have a nurse all the time. When the nurse is not available, many leading experts agree that having Trained Diabetes Personnel can help keep kids safe in school. The American Diabetes Association has a quick resource to see what your state laws are. If you find that your state lacks safe at school legislation you can take action at the state level by writing your state representatives.
If you are facing troubling issues at school there is help. One fantastic resource is Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel, published by the National Diabetes Education Program. All parents of school age kids with diabetes should have a copy. So should all schools, and for that matter, anyone interested in diabetes in schools. You can get a free copy here.
You can also call your local ADA office and ask about a safe at school education session. ADA has specially trained volunteers who help run them. For example if you are in Philadelphia this coming Saturday, Aug. 18, the local ADA office will be running a session at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia 9 a.m., Stokes Auditorium. (Parking validation available.) If this sounds like a plug it is — stop by and say hi, I'll be the ADA's volunteer. But that is just one session. There are plenty more all across the country. If you can't find one locally, there are online sessions. For info, call 1-800 -DIABETES and ask about the next web session.
We have a voice in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) that can help spread word about these issues, and we all can all take action to bring attention to them.
Each of us can can:
- Sign the Safe at School Pledge
- Engage our state government
- Promote local Safe at School workshops
You may already know that I write a blog is called Your Diabetes May Vary, but when it comes to keeping kids with diabetes safe at school there should be no "vary." Those of use who understand diabetes should champion kids being safe in school.
Sure, how their diabetes is managed will certainly be different from child to child, but they should all be IN school, safe and studying no different than the kid with allergies, the kid with pimples, the kid who is small and the one who is surprisingly tall. The difference is nobody is telling those kids they can't come to school because their body is different.
We, the DOC, need to be advocates to keep Kids Safe at School.
Thanks for the great advocacy work, Bennet. One more good resource for D-Parents is a free "back-to-school" webinar the ADA hosted on Aug. 14, which was recorded and will be available at www.diabetes.org/safeatschool.