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Top 10 tips for taking Type 1 diabetes back to school

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The start of the school year is just around the corner and it is critical to have as much information as possible to support those impacted with type 1 diabetes (T1D) returning to the classroom. 

It requires paperwork, special planning and many conversations with teachers, school nurses and other students about T1D and how it’s managed at school.

JDRF has put together helpful materials and information to ease this transition; they can be found at typeonenation.org/BacktoSchool, and includes information about 504 Plans, building a School Diabetes Emergency kit, the JDRF School Advisory Toolkit and more. Additional materials can be found in the JDRF Back to School Resource Library.

Here are 10 tips for taking T1D to school:

1. Contact your endocrinology care team: Make sure the endocrinology team has filled out the required paperwork (DMMP- diabetes medical management plan and letter of type 1 diabetes diagnosis) – this will ensure the school qualifies the student for additional accommodations to be put into a 504 plan or added into the IEP.

2. Set up a meeting with school personnel: Contact the school before end of year or the beginning of August to discuss your child’s medical needs, and ask for a meeting to be attended by all the teachers, school aides, and bus drivers. This is also a good time to talk about specific needs such as the food served in the lunchroom, when recess will take place (ideally after lunch) and field trips; and include who is going to do the education on training everyone on the fundamentals of T1D.

3. Create a 504 Plan: In addition to the DMMP, you should ask for a 504 plan to be developed. This is essentially a very detailed plan of how your child’s diabetes will be managed while at school, the “who, what, and where” of accommodating the DMMP.  Having a 504 plan in place requires that your child have the same access to educational opportunities as other children. If your child uses a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) make sure to write that in the plan, allow Wi-Fi capability within the school, and who is monitoring the numbers; is this to be shared on a cell phone? Everyone must work together as a team so the student is successful academically, physically, socially, and mentally.

4. Create a supply box: Ensure you have all the supplies necessary for the T1D student. Ideally the child will carry a bag with her at all times just in case of emergencies (lockdowns, evacuations, shelter-in-place) plus additional supplies kept in the school office and low blood sugar snacks in each classroom the child visits. Remember the “Rule of 15” protocol to bring up a low BG – 15 g. carb, retest in 15, repeat 15 g. carb; follow up with parent if necessary.

5. Talk with your child: After your meeting with staff, again go over the key points that your child will need to know and be in charge of during their day. Outline what their responsibilities are and who they should go to when they have questions or concerns. Make sure they know it’s OK to speak up and clearly say what they need.

6. Ask for a ‘teachable moment” with classmates: There are several good books that can be read to fellow classmates, such as "Taking Diabetes to School" -- this can be found in the JDRF Bag of Hope. Lilly also has some great books with a cute character named Coco, perfect for younger kids. Show the class the student’s meter, insulin pump (if she wears one) and other items that will be used throughout the day. JDRF has great resources to help in this regard, including videos, workbooks, and in-school assemblies. Encourage older students to form a JDRF Walk Team to help with fund raising for more research, better treatments, and ultimately a cure.

7. Think ahead and plan ahead: Ask to be notified of any special parties or events your child might encounter in the school year. This way you will know what food is being served and when it is being eaten, and can plan for the insulin dosages or added bolus during the school day.

8. Make adjustments if needed: You will need to make some adjustments to your plan. Even if you get everything right the first time, your child will grow or something in the schedule will change, and something will need to be adjusted with your management plan. Don’t worry about this, just be ready for it.

9. Keep the communication open: Discuss how the best way to talk throughout the day will be, and make sure to always follow up any changes in writing. Phone calls are great, but could texting be quicker and easier? Make sure the child is allowed to use her cell phone for T1D needs, and encourage open and often discussions concerning medical needs. How do you manage low and high blood sugars, changes in insulin dosages, indoor recess or outdoor recess and extra gym time; good communication with the school can help avoid any confusion.

10. Review, review, review: Review the procedures before school is dismissed in the spring: This is a good time to meet with the teachers and school nurses/aides who take care of your child. Make note of what worked, what didn’t, and changes that need to be implemented for next year.