I am beginning the long and daunting process of deciding on a school for my daughter. She is only two right now, but we are hoping to be moving in the next year or two and I would like to be able to give my realtor some parameters…other than ‘a house’ I am planning on calling several of the local school districts to talk to someone and hopefully set up a time to visit the schools…but I don’t know what kinds of questions to ask…I know that I want a school with a full time nurse (the private school I attended, and would have loved for my daughter to attend, does not) and I want an open line of communication with staff, willingness to work with me (I may end up being a pain in the rear!) And plenty of parental involvement. But I don’t know what to ask/look for…any suggestions???
Be sure to ask if they already have a plan. When Becky was diagnosed in 09/2009, we left the hospital and went straight to school. There were already two children there with diabetes. The nurse had a routine down. We talked about what would be taking place and then approved what she was doing. Becky is 9 and knowing where she needs to be and when really helps. There is also a plan in the classroom where she can have her water bottle all day and go the the bathroom when she needs to. She can also just grab somebody and leave when she feels low.
Check to see if they have a full-time nurse. That is important, but also make sure that the nurse has a back-up. Becky’s nurse went on maternity leave and there was already a back-up trained and familiar with the kids.
Also, you will want to talk to the counselors. They are important because you will want a written plan (in MO it is a 504 plan) for her care. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page. This person will also be the person that your daughter will go to when she “has a moment” as Becky calls it. Sometimes the diabetes and school make for a few stressful situations and she need a safe place to vent.
The nurse and the counselor are Becky’s advocates at school. Make sure that you can get a long with them and your trips to school will be significantly lower.
Are you looking only at private schools?
As you are visiting schools, it may not be necessary to ask many probing questions. Asking, “have you ever had a student living with type 1 diabetes in your school”, may illicit a very telling response giving you a very good sense of what to expect in terms of open communication and ability to work together.
It definitely is good to have a full time nurse at the school. We are blessed this year to have a very caring, dedicated nurse at Caleb’s school. However, I think you can also work out an equally effective and safe care plan if there are people willing to assume that responsibility even if they are not nurses. Although Caleb is in a great situation this year, last year, at the same school with a different nurse, was a very different story. He would have been better off with his teacher overseeing his care last year.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t ask lots of questions. My experience, however, after three years (touching four different school years and four very different nurse/staff care scenarios) is that you can really get a very good sense of the situation by meeting the people and having a general discussion with them. I’ve been comforted by several nurses and told out of the gate their experience with other children with diabetes. I’ve been hugged by teachers and asked what can they do to make sure Caleb is safe. I’ve also been met with glazed expressions and the most telling response was meeting Caleb’s kindergarten nurse the year before he started and after telling her Caleb had type 1 diabetes her shoulder’s slumped, she rolled her eyes, looked up to the sky and said, “I thought I was getting rid of that next year”.
If you are considering public schools, you are probably already aware that you can establish a 504 plan to specifically address your child’s needs and define who will be responsible for what. That might be another thing to ask, “How does your school implement 504 plans?” Again that might give you a telling response. If the mention of such a plan is discouraged or encouraged by them, you will have a sense of the level of cooperation you will receive.
I would not discount a beloved private school because there is no nurse. Your child is more than her diabetes, and her education needs to be too. My daughter attends a private all-girls school with 115 students and no nurse; oddly, however, there are FOUR girls (from three families) with diabetes in the school. Only my daughter was already at the school when she was diagnosed. The other families chose the school knowing that their daughters had D and knowing that the school had no nurse. While it’s true that we mothers are the nurses for our daughters, the teachers at the school are far better educated that at most schools, because we’ve done the educating ourselves.
The girls in elementary school keep their extra supplies in their classrooms; the middle school girl keeps hers in the office. The two older girls (7th and 4th grade) call or text their parents at lunch to discuss bolus; the two younger girls (K and 3rd grade) are visted by their mother every lunch. (Instead of thinking upon it as a chore, she looks at it as a pleasant time to visit the school, see her daughters, and chat informally with the teachers.) I did this, too, for the first 6 weeks after diagnosis.
As further food for thought: not a single one of the public schools in my large city has a FT nurse. Having a classroom teacher share the responsibility with you may be more beneficial for your child than having a nurse there PT and someone else (who?) there the rest of the time.
This is our experience too - with a private school. We are blessed to have a nurse at the school, which made my life easier at the beginning, but the attitude of the teachers and the staff to my son is worth more to me than the nurse or any 504 plan. Every teacher he has had has sat down with me and asked questions - been trained on emergency care, and assured me they would do their best in any situation. They allow him to call me whenever he has a question or they aren’t sure if he’s in a good enough range to take a test etc. Once he had a bad grade on a math test and had forgotten to check his blood sugar (he usually gets very high math grades). With a 504 I could have demanded a retake. Instead, his teacher apologized to me, and threw out the grade. She had never before forgotten to ask him to check, and felt terrible that it had happened on a day he didn’t do well.
I’m not saying all private schools are like this, but I know that I have heard some horrible public school stories even with 504s in place, and full time nurses. Obviously the worst case would be private with no nurse, no 504, and a staff that didn’t care, but for me it’s all about the school, the atmosphere, and the teachers.
Communication is key, as is having someone at school at all times who knows your plan and your child’s needs. 504 Plans are federal law, which supersedes state laws, for PUBLIC school or private schools that accept federal money. The American Diabetes Assn website has a whole section called Safe at School, including materials you can order and bring to any school, and many advocates on staff. I whole-heartedly agree with the person who wrote "ask them if they’ve ever had a type 1 student before. The response will tell you what you need to know. Bear in mind, that if they say “yes”, they may know how to care for that child, but your child’s individual care will need to be addressed in detail. Last bit of advice, make sure you educate yourself about the nursing regulations in your state. Your school may have a registered nurse or a health clerk, who is not a “nurse.” As we type 1 parents know, you don’t need a nursing degree or license to learn this stuff and do it, just be able to learn about diabetes management, a good eye and a warm heart.