For years, I have heard stories from my young patients about the difficulties they’ve experienced managing their diabetes at school. From teachers who assume that children with diabetes cannot have cupcakes to school nurses who insist that checking blood sugar can only be done in their office, it seems these children have had to deal with discrimination on top of their disability.
Diabetes is a serious chronic disease in which the pancreas does not make insulin (Type 1) or the body cannot use insulin properly (Type 2). In other words, a child with Type 1 diabetes injects insulin to help her body move sugar from blood into cells for energy, and someone with Type 2 diabetes still produces their own insulin, but their body is not able to use it very well. People with Type 2 diabetes may be able to control their disease with proper diet and exercise. This distinction, alone, is the source of much confusion among school personnel.
It is hard enough for some kids to maintain the rigorous schedule required to manage their diabetes. Social stigmas and unnecessary restrictions reduce the likelihood they will follow their medical regimen and can jeopardize their health.
And, although the school nurse is the best person to provide medical care to students, the reality is that our public school systems average about one nurse for every 2000 students. That’s not enough resources to help the growing number of kids with diabetes manage their care. We believe that every school should have their own certified school nurse, but even if that were the case, the entire school staff still needs education to become “diabetes sensitive”.
An Illinois law, effective this year, is doing just that and making life at school easier for kids with diabetes.
The Care of Students with Diabetes Act (HB6065) makes it possible for capable students to check their own blood sugar when and wherever they need to, and administer their own insulin. For kids who cannot administer their own care, and if a school nurse is not available, the law requires schools to have “delegated care aides” trained by a medical professional who specializes in diabetic care.
This bill recognizes that children with diabetes have a legal right to carry supplies with them and manage their own diabetes in school. It also means that school personnel will be trained in the basics, such as recognizing the signs of low blood sugar.
To help schools comply with the law, and Advocate Medical Group have teamed up to offer community outreach and training programs for school staff and delegated care aides. We are already training teachers, principals, coaches and also provided more detailed training to delegated care aides in several schools.
Educators, school nurses, school attorneys and other school personnel had an opportunity to learn more about the new law after attending “The Diabetes Care Act of Illinois and the Schools”, a panel discussion on October 4, 2011 at Lutheran General Children's Hospital.
- How to best serve the health and educational needs of students with diabetes in the school setting.
- How to address the requirements of the Illinois Diabetes Care Act for Children and recent legislative changes.
- How to develop care plans and emergency health plans for students with diabetes.
Children with diabetes have the right to take responsibility for their health. By making it easier for them to manage their disease during school hours, we are contributing to their long-term health and survival.