First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to read this. It can undoubtedly feel overwhelming to have a student in your care whose condition is serious and creates extra responsibilities on your part.
This letter is to help explain why students with diabetes are a protected class and share ways that you can best support a student with diabetes. I was a student with diabetes from the age of 11 and have very warm and fuzzy feelings towards the teachers who treated me fairly and showed me compassion and curiosity. I fondly remember how one teacher and I came up with a fun “I need to go to the restroom” signal I would use so I wouldn’t interrupt class or call attention to myself. She’d throw up an “OK” hand symbol in return. Trust me, kids will never forget you for supporting them during this tricky and formidable time in their development.
Most people with diabetes who rely on insulin wouldn’t ever consider themselves “disabled,” but that’s exactly how the law sees them, due to the seriousness of the condition and this reliance on insulin and blood glucose monitoring. A parent of a student with diabetes will usually provide you with a form with guiding information and protocol concerning their child’s condition. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify or to make copies so you can keep handy.
There are things a student with diabetes will have to be allowed to do without any questioning or delay:
A student with diabetes may need to eat or drink something in class to help manage blood sugar levels within range at any given time. These sugary snacks can literally be life-saving.
A student with diabetes must be allowed to test blood sugar levels as needed. This is incredibly important because low and high blood sugar can both create immediate dangers and may require immediate treatment. When a student learns that their blood sugar is in range, this can help them relax and feel more confident about participating in class.
A student with diabetes using a device such as an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitor needs the right to keep their device with them. An insulin pump is programmed to deliver insulin and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) provides blood sugar data and alerts. Older and independent students, those authorized to handle their own diabetes management, make innumerable health treatment decisions every day. Sometimes they need to think about what how they should respond to their health data, so please don’t be impatient when they are looking at one of their devices. If they need to take their time, it’s best they don’t feel rushed so they don’t make any errors.
A student with diabetes should be allowed to have access to water and the restroom when they need it. Elevated blood sugar levels can create an intense need to drink and pass water.
Every student with diabetes manages their diabetes uniquely. There are different diets followed by people with diabetes, different devices used, and different schedules for checking blood sugar levels. Please understand that diabetes is complicated and nuanced and treatment varies widely.
Here are a few other important things to remember:
Since students are in your care while at school, please be sure to note if a student with diabetes is behaving strangely. This can be a sign of high or low blood sugar. If a student with diabetes doesn’t feel well and is going to visit the nurse, have another student go with them to ensure they arrive safely.
If you’ve been given a hypoglycemia rescue medication, make sure it is accessible at all times. Severe hypoglycemia — low blood sugar that a patient cannot treat themselves — needs to be treated immediately.
If possible, notify parents before a schedule change or special events like a party, field trip, or extra activity. Parents may want to plan for these changes in their child’s routine. With a little planning, children with diabetes can manage to safely partake in any activity.
And some insight regarding a student with diabetes:
A student with diabetes likely wants to be treated like their peers and not singled out for having diabetes — even if you would like to single them out in a positive way. So much of what they do is visible to their peers and they may not like any extra attention given to their diabetes than is necessary.
Please know that students with diabetes don’t want to disturb the class or draw attention to themselves but they have to do many things in a timely manner in order to manage their diabetes and stay safe and healthy in the short-term and long-term.
Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or express that you don’t understand something. Diabetes is a handful for the people living with it, so it’s perfectly reasonable to have questions and feel unsure about what you’ve learned. Most parents would be glad to explain anything about their child’s diabetes.
If you have concerns regarding any aspect of a student’s diabetes care, please know it is reasonable to voice these. No one expects you to become a diabetes expert, but you do play an important part in your student’s success and well-being at school. And for that, we thank you.