Over the past week, my Facebook feed has been flooded with back to school pictures of my friends’ children. Cute kids holding signs of “My first day in Pre-K” or “My first day of 5th grade” are now the norm it seems. It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year again. But in states like Georgia and Oklahoma, kids and their teachers are back in session already. And in other states, teachers have returned to the classroom getting ready for their students in the next few weeks.
Recently, several friends who are also teachers have texted my wife and me to say: “I just completed the American Diabetes Association’s “Safe at School” training at the teacher in-service training day and I immediately thought of you.”
These are friends who have followed my move to the American Diabetes Association and were delighted to see a way their required training at work connected to my work. So was I!
If you aren’t familiar with the Safe at School program, it’s one of the advocacy programs that’s part of the American Diabetes Association’s work every day to ensure that no child faces discrimination or barriers to access of their diabetes care while in school.
It’s a program whose goals are three-fold:
1) Educating teachers, administrators, parents and others about diabetes and the needs of students with diabetes, especially the necessity of the plan for students with diabetes in the school setting to keep them safe and to make sure they are treated fairly.
2) Providing support, guidance and information for parents about legal protections for students with diabetes to prevent discrimination and to ensure diabetes management needs are appropriately met at school.
3) Providing strategies for resolution and help when diabetes management problems occur and leading the charge to change policies and laws that provide systemic barriers to care in schools.
Diabetes is considered by federal law to be a disability. Under federal laws, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, any child with a disability – like diabetes – is protected from discrimination and entitled to a “free, appropriate public education.” Also, many states have laws that provide additional protections.
This means that no public school (including charter school), private school or religious affiliated school that receives federal funding, (no matter its funding limitations) can make decisions on behalf of the child living with diabetes that keeps him or her from their best possible care outcomes.
Bottom line: children with diabetes need easy access to their insulin.
The Association is leading the way through the initiatives of the Safe at School program to not only educate teachers and administrators about the types of diabetes and needs of children living with diabetes, but to pour our efforts into legal advocacy when children with diabetes face discrimination.
It upsets me that in 2015 not every school child in America has equal access to care when it comes to their diabetes.
For example, in Maryland, only a few miles away from our Alexandria, VA headquarters, teachers are not permitted to administer insulin under current state law.
This means that if a student newly diagnosed with diabetes (and not yet able to administer their insulin independently) wants to go on a field trip and a school nurse is not available, this student can’t go unless the parent goes as well. It also means if a school nurse is not present at all times in the school and a child needs assistance with their insulin injections, then the parent must take off work to come care for the child. This should not be so!
I’m so thankful for the efforts of our advocacy team, in particular those who work with our Safe at School program. During months like this as students and teachers go back to class, their work ensures that all kids are safe in school no matter if they have diabetes or not.
Above all, teachers know this: students living with diabetes are just like other students in your classroom.
They want to learn. They want to play with their friends. They want to enjoy coming to school every morning.
They want you to help them feel like all the other students in your classroom, not singled out because they are different.
They want you to be on their team as they manage their diabetes 24-7.
They want your flexibility in the learning environment that you offer them.
If you are a teacher and want to learn more about our Safe at School programs, check out this website.
If you are a parent whose child has faced discrimination because of their diabetes care or would like help in creating your 504 plan, please see this site.