They seem to be everywhere in Washington, DC this time of year: Groups of students. They shuffle through the museums, spend time in the parks, and flock around national monuments. This can only mean one thing: it’s field trip season! It’s a time for students to explore matters beyond the classroom and hopefully have some fun while they’re out and about. Recently, however, I learned that field trips are often an area of concern and even a source of tension between some schools and families of children with diabetes.
When it comes to diabetes and schools, there is no better expert to talk to than Crystal Jackson, Associate Director, Legal Advocacy. Having fought for the rights of her own child with type 1 diabetes to have her needs met by her school in Virginia, Crystal has led the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School campaign. Today Crystal continues to train volunteer advocates, attorneys and health care professionals across the country to ensure that the legal rights of children with diabetes are protected.
When it comes to school field trips, what happens to students with diabetes?
What should happen is that they should go on the field trip and enjoy themselves, just like their classmates. What should happen is that a school nurse will work with the parents/guardians of the student and the student’s health care team to make sure that the student’s diabetes care requirements are met on the field trip. What should happen is that someone assisting with the field trip and accompanying the students should be trained in the diabetes care requirements of that student.
But that doesn’t always happen. Instead, we often hear of schools telling parents that their child with diabetes cannot attend a school field trip because of his or her diabetes needs – or that a parent or guardian of the child must go on the field trip as well (and if you know kids, you probably know that as they get older, they probably don’t want their parents with them on a field trip!). Parental attendance of field trips should be a choice – not a requirement.
Wait a minute. Isn’t that illegal?
Exactly right. Not allowing a student to attend a field trip based on his or her diabetes is discrimination, and parents/guardians can’t be required to accompany their child on a field trip as a prerequisite for attendance. It is the school’s responsibility to provide safe care for the student with diabetes, even in the school nurse can’t go on the field trip. There are three federal laws that protect the rights of students in public schools and many states have additional laws to ensure schools are providing health care services as individually needed.
What can parents do?
Parents should educate themselves about what state laws and regulations (in addition to federal laws) will help them to advocate for proper care for their child with school administrators and school nurses and trip sponsors. That’s the first step. After that, they should work together to develop and implement the student’s written plans such as the Diabetes Medical Management Plan, Section 504 Plan, or Individualized Education Program (IEP) and make sure the written plan includes a provision that addresses school field trips. The school nurse should work with the principal and parent to identify and train the school staff member who will provide care needed by the student on the field trip – if the school nurse cannot go., Of course, if the parents wants to join the fun, that’s okay too – it just can’t be a requirement and should be clearly set out by the students written plans.
What does training usually include?
A number of major components: an overview of diabetes and the balance of insulin, physical activity and nutrition (these aspects are especially important on field trips which vary from the daily routine), blood glucose monitoring (when to check, how to check), insulin administration (how much depending on the glucose levels), low blood glucose (the student’s individual symptoms and how to treat them including glucagon administration), high blood glucose (what actions to take if the student has high blood glucose including insulin administration), food consumption (when, what and how much to eat), and access to diabetes supplies (such as fast-acting carbohydrate, a blood glucose meter and test strips, insulin via pump, vial, pens and back-up supplies and – of course – contact information in case of an emergency).
The first thing that comes to mind is a personal example: in the school district where my daughter was enrolled, it was the bus driver who was trained to administer glucagon if she needed it. That might not be a viable plan in every school district, but it did help put my mind at ease a little during school field trips. It also lessened the school district’s responsibility of needing to bring another school staff member along who had been trained in glucagon administration. It was a win-win all the way around!
Given all the work you do with the Safe at School campaign, I know we’ll have you back on the blog again. But since it’s your first time here, I have to ask you this: If you could tell the world one thing about diabetes, what would it be?
While we all are working hard to find a cure, we need to remember that the maintenance of quality of life and personal happiness are key factors in keeping our loved ones with diabetes healthy until that day.
Thanks to Crystal for sharing this information with us and for her dedicated work to protect the rights of children with diabetes in public schools. To learn more about the Safe at School program, you can visit the American Diabetes Association’s website.
We’re wishing everyone happy and safe field trips!