by Vicki Olson Johnson
In preparing children to begin school or begin a new school year, parents not only need to take into consideration day-to-day details such as transportation and after school activities, but careful planning and thought should be given to alerting your child’s school about medical conditions, medication needs and other health related concerns your child may face throughout the school day.
As a RiverStone Health school nurse, one of my responsibilities is to not only provide health information for students and staff, but to provide health assessment and care. In providing assessment and care, it is very helpful to know if a child has a medical condition such as asthma or diabetes, as these and other health issues have an impact on how and what care is given.
In sharing personal health information with your child’s school, it is important that personal health information be handled professionally and appropriately. Before sharing your child’s health information, ask yourself, “Does my child have a health condition that the school should know about? If I do not disclose the concern, could I be putting my child at risk?”
There are laws that allow for privacy of health information in all medical settings. Sharing your child’s medical information with appropriate school personnel is also considered protected information. Not sharing your child’s medical information with school personnel, who can support and care for your child during the school day, puts your child at risk.
At the beginning of each school year, schools ask parents to complete a health information assessment. In completing the health assessment tool, parents are able to share with the school their child’s health information thus helping the school nurse with her responsibilities. The health information assessment tool also opens the lines of communication enabling the school to plan for a healthy environment for your child.
I encourage you to seek the help of your child’s school nurse in completing the assessment tool. The school nurse is an excellent resource and based upon your child’s health issues, understands what is needed to keep your child healthy throughout the school year.
In completing your child’s health assessment information pay attention to the following concerns:
Any child that needs to take prescription medication while at school is given consent forms. These consent forms must be signed by the child’s parent and healthcare provider and returned to the school. The school nurse may review the consent forms and medication needed as well as train other appropriate school personnel to make sure that the medication is given correctly. The school will need to be notified of any changes in medication dosages and timing.
If your child has a peanut allergy, other allergies or asthma take these measures:
▪ Medication is critical for these students; be sure to sign medication consent forms and return them to the school.
▪ Signed parental permission forms that enable the sharing of health information are faxed to your child’s healthcare provider after the school nurse and parent(s) have determined the child’s individual asthma/allergy action plan.
▪ The individual action plan will instruct upon the use of all prescribed medications, including use of the Epipen. School staff, trained to use the Epipen, in absence of the school nurse, will also be listed in the action plan.
▪ Prevention of allergy or asthma episodes is the first priority. Meetings with teachers should occur to review snack guidelines (limiting allergy exposure), pre-medicating children with asthma prior to physical education class and teaching signs and symptoms for early detection of a problem. Letters may even be sent home to other parents explaining limited snack lists for school parties. Some schools have developed a “peanut-free lunch zone” in an effort to keep children with peanut allergies safe during the school day.
▪ Some children have weakened immune systems because of chronic illness or cancer. During contagious disease outbreaks, the school nurse can provide guidance to parents to help keep children well. ALL parents need to share information with the school if their child has been diagnosed with a contagious disease.
▪ More children have diabetes than ever before. It is critical that this information be shared with the school so that the school nurse can establish a care plan tailored to your child.
▪ Seizure disorders in children can be successfully managed. However, as children grow and mature, medication may need to be adjusted. If the school is aware that a child has a seizure disorder, a plan can be developed, thus enabling the situation to be handled calmly.
Many families may be hesitant to share their child’s special mental health care needs with school personnel. Schools should be prepared to support a child with all medical needs and mental health is a medical need that is important to address. Referrals to mental health care providers can be provided is school nurses are made aware of potential issues.
In this day and age of 24-7 electronic communication and information, you would think that it would be easy to reach parents by cell phone. Not always…a time or two, RiverStone Health school nurses have had to seek assistance from the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office to locate parents of a child in medical distress. Provide your child’s school with many ways to reach you during the day. As your work number or cell number change, remember to give the school the most recent phone number where you can be reached. A second emergency contact person who is family or a friend should also be listed as back up for you.
Our children spend the majority of their weekdays in school. Keeping schools informed of your child’s health concerns and needs may not seem to be priority, but when an emergency arises, knowing that information in advance is time saving.
I have seen the fear in a child’s face when they have had a serious injury, asthma attack and an allergic reaction. Your child will handle these situations better the sooner we can reach you and you can be there for her.
The more information you share with school nurses about your child’s medical and other health-related concerns, the better we can help throughout the school year. School nurses work each day to improve the life, health and safety of your child. SFM
Vicki Olson Johnson, RN, BSN manages school nursing services at RiverStone Health. She is the busy mother of two girls (both pursuing careers in the health field!) and can relate to hectic schedules. She loves school nursing and has committed her life to fostering a healthful and safe environment where children receive the physical and emotional nurturing they need. Johnson can be reached at 247-3367 or firstname.lastname@example.org