Back in the olden days, there were no 504 plans. (Feel free to cue the Scott Joplin ragtime music player piano and take your hat off while you’re inside the establishment, please. There are ladies present.) After my diagnosis in 1983, I skipped through the hallways of my school with a backpack full of syringes and needles and lancets, insulin bottles jingling melodically at the bottom of my bag. I wrote each of my teachers a letter about diabetes and what the symptoms of hypoglycemia were, handing them the letter and a roll of LifeSavers™ to keep in their desks.
Halcyon days, I tell you.
No one cared that I checked my blood sugar in class. I drew up my insulin in the bathroom and shot it wherever I felt like. The school nurse? Ha. My mother reminded me the other day that I knew more about diabetes and didn’t trust the school nurse to blow my nose, never mind participate my diabetes management. High school was much the same, but by that time, I didn’t bother with the cute little letter and the LifeSavers™. To be truthful, I didn’t bother much with my diabetes either. Reflecting back, I can say with certainty that the majority of my exams were taken with the haze of hyperglycemia clouding my brain. But when I did check my blood sugar and take insulin, no one batted an eye.
It’s nothing like that now, from what my friends tell me. Children with diabetes are encountering, in the mildest form, resistance to help with diabetes management. At its worst, blatant refusal and lawsuits filed to keep children with T1 in schools, even with a 504 plan in place.
What’s a 504 plan?
The 504 Plan sets out an agreement to make sure the student with diabetes has the same access to education as other children. It is a tool that can be used to make sure that the student, the parents/guardians, and school personnel understand their responsibilities and work through challenges or misunderstandings to avoid problems in the future.
It’s not a wish list of things that the parents want the school to do (“Keep my child’s blood sugar between 80 and 140 throughout the day.” Uh, no.). It’s not unreasonable requests (“Provide a nurse to sit in the back of the classroom to monitor my child.”). It’s an agreement stating that the school will do, what the parent will do, and what the child will do. 504 plans can include:
- Understanding hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia and taking appropriate steps under the child’s diabetes management plan to mitigate risks.
- Permitting the child to test blood sugars and administer insulin – and if the child is too young, training a school professional to administer and test for them.
- Making reasonable adjustments when the child’s blood sugar is high or low when completing academic assignments in class, such as tests. (This might include scheduling to take a test at a later time when the child’s blood sugar has returned to range.)
None of this sounds crazy to me. What do you think? 504 plans are not just for children with diabetes. If a child has a medical condition such as asthma or ADHD or a developmental disability, 504 plans are put in place to ensure that all children get an equal education.
Something is wrong when a school sends a note home in a backpack saying that a child with diabetes is not welcome in the school anymore, after a parent tries to enforce the 504 plan. (Here’s what’s wrong: it’s illegal. I’m not even going to get into the immoral part of it.) When school nurses won’t administer insulin or glucagon, it’s wrong. When a 504 plan is ignored, it’s wrong.
Yet, it still happens. The horror stories of parents who fight to have their children remain in public school and are forced to hire attorneys to ensure they are heard. The rigamarole these parents deal with and the hoops they jump through to make sure their children are safe are appalling. Parents of T1s already deal with enough. More than enough.
Safe At School
The American Diabetes Association has an entire section on their website called Safe At School. They also have Crystal Jackson, who is the name parents breathe as their gunslinger in the fight with schools who just don’t get it. And the media is always a popular choice to help raise awareness. (Public schools rely on federal funding. Don’t follow a 504 plan? They can lose federal funding. Seems insane, right? Yet, some people…some administrators… think they are above these laws.)
I’m still trying to understand why people who are responsible for a child’s education would teach everyone the lesson of denial, ignorance, and discrimination through their unwillingness to follow a 504 plan. It’s children, for goodness sake.
What are they teaching them?
You know what they are teaching me? Diabetes is still a mystery to the general public. Something to be feared (which it is, sometimes, but I digress). Something that they don’t want to deal with.
That’s not acceptable.
Not for me. My days of trailing my fingertips along metal lockered walls are long gone, but I would stand in them to stand up for these children. Any day of the week.
T1 Warrior Parents who have taken up 504 plan issues:
(There are more. Many more. It’s scary how many parents have to become well versed in 504 terminology and the law to keep their children safe at school.)