When a child has a chronic health condition, daily living can be a challenge. Managing that condition while he is in school can cause even more anxiety for parents. Lucille Packard Foundation for Children’s Health statistics reveals one in five children ages 6–17 has some type of above-average health care need.

If your child has a special need, you are probably already aware of the nursing shortage at California public schools. According to the National Association of School Nurses, California public schools have one nurse for every 2,100 students.

The shortage is the result of many years of state education budget cuts. Part-time nurses and health technicians (who do not have nursing degrees) replaced school nurses. Adding to the confusion, different nurses are at schools different days of the week in some cases. State legislatures have passed special laws allowing teachers and other non-medical staff to administer life-saving medications such as EpiPens for anaphylactic shock and diazepam for epileptic seizures.

So, how can you ensure your child’s chronic health condition is managed while he is in school?

Erin Rumer of Clairemont keeps a close eye on her 5-year-old son Dawson (who has type 1 diabetes) while he attends transitional kindergarten. Dawson’s parents trained the school’s health tech and teacher to check his blood sugar and administer insulin. Erin advises parents to thoroughly research schools. “Make sure the school has a positive attitude about your child attending and the staffing to offer services your child needs,” she says. “Assume the school knows nothing about your child’s condition, and that you and your medical support team will provide any and all training.”

Diana Chase, a Rady Children’s Hospital nurse practitioner says, “Keep in mind that if you do not share your child’s health condition with his school, this may [prevent him from] receiving timely and appropriate health care while in school.” The more informed teachers and staff are, the more able they are to help your child. Staff members that don’t have all facts may make incorrect assumptions about behaviors or performance.

Like Erin, parents of students with special needs may need to take the lead in fostering communication between everyone in the school. “Some days I talk to the school up to six times which is fine by me because it is keeping my son safe,” Erin said.

Chase recommends managing your child’s health at school by creating an individual health plan, field trip plan and emergency plan.

Individual health plan:

  • Gives the school necessary medical information about your child
  • Identifies your child’s health needs, such as giving medication during the school day
  • Creates solutions to potential health problems that can occur in a school environment
  • Develops plans for emergency medical situations
  • Provides a safe environment that helps your child learn
  • Makes goals for your child’s health care, such as having your child work towards remembering to take medication

Field trip plan:

  • Details potential signs and symptoms that may occur due to your child’s health condition
  • Lists treatment/medication that is needed with instructions
  • Should include what constitutes an emergency situation
  • Details how it should be handled (call a parent, 911 etc.)

Chase advises creating an emergency plan for school in the event of a community disaster when you may not have contact with your child and/or your child may not have access to emergency medical care. The plan should include the individual health plan, child’s signs and symptoms related to his condition and medications for his condition. “It should specifically address how to handle an emergency situation, keeping in mind there may be a delay in accessing emergency medical care,” Chase says.

Learn medication and treatment policies
If your child takes medicine at school, learn the policies for storage and usage. Find out where your child is able to take medicine or receive treatment in a comfortable place.

Provide consent
Parents need to sign release forms that give schools permission to contact your child’s doctors, and those doctors will need written permission to speak with the school about your child.

Plan ahead
Meet with teachers to discuss whether a child’s health condition is affecting schoolwork or behavior. Should a health condition force your child to miss school, discuss ways to keep up with schoolwork.

If your child requires medical assistance during school, make sure he knows to tell a teacher or staffer. Having solid plans in place will help your child get medical attention sooner. Every child can receive a solid education when parents, educators and school staff are informed and prepared.


Courtney Daly-Pavone is a freelance writer who resides in San Diego with her husband and her 5-year old son.