Public schools (and many private schools) are required to take care of kids with type 1 diabetes according to all kinds of federal policy. That said, there can be a wide range in the practical application of how this happens! Some teachers are so phenomenal that having a 504 Plan is really just a technicality. For others, a 504 protects your rights and helps become a medium of communication with a teacher that might resist having a student with diabetes. With James, we've seen the level of care as a kind of a spectrum.
In some settings, James has received truly optimal care. Obligation can't explain the wonderful way that the teachers cared for him! I felt like James was completely safe, and while we made sure that we had a 504 in place, I would say that it was never an issue. The teachers had a conscientious and caring attitude, an attention to detail and a certain level of responsibility that I don't think can be taught.
On the other end of the spectrum, in another public school setting, the 504 became extremely crucial. Without it, his needs may not have been properly met. I was so grateful that we had put it into place, and I felt like it ensured that he was safe at school and not treated differently than other kids.
Occasionally, I did have to remind teachers and staff about specific provisions. To their great credit, they always made sure that he was safe—that his blood sugar was tested if he appeared low and that I or the school nurse was notified of a high blood sugar that required insulin. However, some of the provisions in our 504 made sure that he was not treated differently than other kids, and a couple of times this became an issue. This school was very liberal with food in the classroom and until I mentioned that it went against the policies of his 504 Plan, the teacher would give cupcakes, popsicles or other treats to the other 18 kids, while my son would have to wait for the end of school or the appearance of the school nurse. While this didn't harm his physical health, it made him feel badly, so I enacted our policies as outlined in the 504 to come up with a better option.
Overall, what I've learned is to get a 504 in place for each school year. It may not even be an issue, and we've mostly been extremely lucky with schools going above and beyond the simple policies outlined therein. On the other hand, there are teachers who, although hardworking and conscientious in other ways, need reminders and maybe even the force of the "law" of the 504 to keep our kids safe and treated fairly! For those teachers who truly "get" what a child with diabetes goes through in a school environment, I will be forever grateful! They are gems and blessings, and our gratitude knows no bounds. For those teachers who see a child with diabetes as a further challenge to an already, admittedly, very difficult job, a 504 coupled with an attitude of forbearance helps ensure a truly successful year.
About the author: My name is Jennifer, and I live in Southern California with my husband, Craig, and our three boys. Our oldest son James has been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I’m thankful for this opportunity -- along with my sister-in-law Kim and her daughter Kaitlyn, who also has type 1 diabetes -- to share our struggles and triumphs with our friends in the diabetes community.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the "typical" experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.