A new school year can be stressful for several reasons, especially for those of us with kids who have medical conditions or learning needs that require special attention.
The good news is, there are plans that can be written specific to your child’s needs that can help parents, students, teachers, nurses and staff be on the same page.
Written plans act as an agreement between students and the school to make sure that barriers are removed, and accommodations are made so that your child can get the most out of their education.
Section 504 Plan
For those who have medically diagnosed conditions such as diabetes, food allergies, ADHD, blindness, or mobility issues, Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the needs of students with such disabilities be met as adequately as the needs of a non-disabled student are.
If a student has diabetes, teachers can be prepared with knowing that the student will always need to keep a water bottle with them, may need to use the restroom more often, or might need to test their blood sugar level throughout the day without getting in trouble for taking the time to do so. A student with food allergies could be offered an alternative ingredient to use for a craft or project, and a classroom could be modified to accommodate someone with mobility issues.
Having a plan and conversation with the school nurse and teacher will help set expectations.
Individual Education Plan (IEP)
An IEP addresses learning needs, such as issues with reading or math, that might not have anything to do with medical disabilities. They are school-directed accommodations to make sure that the student who needs the extra help will receive the support that they need. For an IEP, goals can be set, and the school district can state the kind of services it will provide.
“Open communication is key between parents, teachers and nurses,” says Ellen Carroll, R.N., Carilion Clinic’s manager of school nurses.
“If you’re concerned with your child because of a health or learning need, talk to the school nurse or teacher. Nurses are aware of what accommodations are available and can quickly relay concerns with teachers and staff.”
Carilion Clinic has 30 school nurses who work in Roanoke City Public Schools, with an R.N. in every school, a few who float and a regional nurse who handles the special education caseloads. They are the liaisons between home and physician and classroom providers, and on average see 60-70 students a day.
"Our school nurses stay at the same school from year to year, have good working relationships with the cafeteria, counselors, teachers and follow the kids through years at the school," says Ellen.
A safe environment where your child can thrive and learn is what they strive for.
Not all students with a health condition will need a 504 plan, just as those who fall a bit behind on a subject may not need an IEP. Each school has a team that can review and see if a student qualifies to have a plan.
For more information about IEP and 504 plans, meet with your child’s school nurse and pediatrician to discuss what would work best.