Helping Students with Diabetes Be Safe and Successful at school

By Joanne Gallivan, MS, RD


As a parent of a child with diabetes, you know the importance of safe glucose (sugar) levels and the warning signs that your child needs help. Because your child spends so much time in school, you also want the school nurse, teachers, and other school staff to learn these same things.

“The need to manage your child’s diabetes doesn’t stop at the school door. There is a guide for schools that, quite literally, can be a lifesaver,” said Griffin P. Rodgers, MD, MACP, Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Updated Guide Helps Keep Your Child Safe at School

School staff can get the guidance they need from the manual, Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel. The guide was produced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP). Its use is supported by major diabetes and education organizations, including the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists [en-doh-cri-NA-lo-jists]. The latest edition provides the most current expert advice for managing diabetes and diabetes-related emergencies at school. It is a practical guide to the health information and training schools need to help students with diabetes be safe and participate fully in school life.

The guide is a great tool for both schools and parents. You can download it from the NDEP website at www.YourDiabetesinfo.org/schoolguide or order a free copy by calling 1-888-693-NDEP (1-800-693-6337).

The guide provides A to Z information about

  • how diabetes is managed,
  • how students need to balance insulin, nutrition and physical activity,
  • how to identify and respond to diabetes emergencies, and
  • where to find more information about diabetes.

Getting Your School Ready for Your Child with Diabetes

From the bus driver in the morning to the athletic coach after school and all the teachers and school staff in between, each has responsibility for students with diabetes. The “Actions for School Personnel, Parents and Students” chapter includes copier-ready checklists so everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.

The guide’s “school health team” approach encourages students, parents and school staff to work together to meet each child’s needs. “Nobody knows your child’s day-to-day needs and how to respond to a diabetes emergency better than you,” said Dr. Rodgers. “That’s why it is so important for you to be part of the school health team and keep open the lines of communication.”

To prepare school staff for their responsibilities, the guide recommends different levels of diabetes training. Training should provide a basic understanding of diabetes, the needs of students with diabetes, and how to take action at the first signs of a diabetes emergency. Also, a few staff members at every school should be trained to perform student-specific routine care to help younger, less experienced students and to help all students with a diabetes emergency.

The manual spells out the schools’ obligations to students with diabetes under Federal laws (check with the school for the state laws that apply). The guide outlines typical items that should be addressed when school staff prepares education plans that may be required to meet your child’s needs.

Getting Your Child Ready for School

The school guide includes action plans for you and your child to help you prepare for managing diabetes care at school. Go over these checklists so both of you can be active members of the school health team.

Be sure to keep the school principal and school nurse up-to-date on information about your child’s diabetes care. Ask your child’s diabetes care team to write a “Diabetes Medical Management Plan” (or medical orders) that the school nurse can use to develop a school health care plan and Emergency Diabetes Care Plan for your child. Samples are in the guide.

Health privacy laws prevent your doctor from supplying this information without written permission. Give your okay so the school health team can provide care at school.

Parents are responsible for providing the school with glucose-monitoring equipment and all the other supplies needed to manage your child’s diabetes. Make sure to pack enough supplies to last 72 hours in case there is an emergency at school. Supplies should include glucose tablets, juice or other sugar foods for the treatment of hypoglycemia [hie-poh-gly-SEEM-ee-ah], and medications such as insulin and syringes or insulin pens, as well as ketone strips. Schools may be different in where they might ask that some of these be kept. Discuss with the school nurse or other staff responsible for your child’s well being what their policy is, and work with your child’s school to make sure that you, as well as the school’s personnel, are completely comfortable in managing your child’s diabetes.

The guide helps school personnel understand not only the physical aspects of diabetes care, but also the emotional issues that your child might face. Some students can feel isolated, resentful, and rebellious. Well-trained guidance staff can spot the warning signs, work with families, and help students feel better, safer, and ready for every opportunity the school provides. Special circumstances might need to be discussed and planned for ahead of time, such as overnight school trips or preparing for physical education activities such as swimming and what to do with an insulin pump.

Check the NDEP website (www.YourDiabetesInfo.org) for materials to help teens cope with diabetes and for resources for parents on planning your child’s transition to adult health care.

Ms. Gallivan serves as the Director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She is a Registered Dietitian and a member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the ADA’s Diabetes Care Practice Group, and the Maryland Dietetic Association. Ms. Gallivan received her Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition from the University of Connecticut and her Master’s degree in community nutrition from the University of Maryland. Ms. Gallivan has authored several articles on the National Diabetes Education