Extracurricular Activities, School Field Trips, and Diabetes Care

All parents plan for transportation, lunches, and supplies during their child’s school year, but planning takes on added dimensions when a child has diabetes.

Extracurricular activates, and field trips that take students off school grounds especially require careful, creative forethought so that a child with diabetes can fully participate, and be safe.

Guaranteed Participation

Fortunately, federal laws guarantee that students with a disability, such as diabetes, can participate in all school activities, and get the care they need. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires programs receiving federal funding to treat kids with disabilities fairly, and the Americans with Disabilities Act* (ADA) prohibits schools (excluding religious ones) from discriminating against students with a disabling condition.

Students with diabetes are considered to have a disability because their endocrine system does not function properly—a physical impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Specific Guarantees

More specifically, federal disability law ensures that:

  • Students with diabetes can expect the school to provide care at drama, sports, music, art, and other activities both before or after school. This is the school’s responsibility, and includes help with monitoring, insulin administration, access to diabetes supplies, and having someone on site trained to use emergency glucagon.
  • Students with diabetes must be included in all activities including class or field trips, sports, drama, band, student council, school dances, recreational events, or carnivals. If an event or class trip requires an overnight stay, the school is responsible for providing necessary care. The student’s parents cannot be required to chaperone day events, or overnight trips—though they can naturally volunteer to do so.
  • Students with diabetes can participate in interscholastic, and intramural sports. This does not mean tryout standards will be lowered, but reasonable accommodations must be made, such as giving a student time to monitor, or administer insulin.
  • Students with diabetes can attend aftercare programs that are run by the school, and the school must provide accommodations. Schools are prohibited from engaging outside aftercare agencies that discriminate against children with disabilities, and outside agencies that receive federal funding must follow Section 504 requirements. Unless an outside aftercare service is a religious agency, it is also independently covered by ADA regulations.

It’s important that extracurricular activities and field trips are in a student’s 504 plan, to ensure they get the unique, specific assistance and accommodations they need. A 504 plan also expedites the planning process for school trips, and extracurricular activities.

Field Trip Parent Tips

Because field trips take students and school personnel into unfamiliar surroundings and alter daily schedules, parents, and other caregivers of kids with diabetes are recommended to:

  • Make sure the student will always have easy access to necessary supplies and equipment during the trip.
  • Confirm that a trained staff member will be available as needed for monitoring, insulin injection, and emergency glucagon administration.

    Plan ahead for how schedule changes, or increased activity levels might affect the student’s insulin needs; consider consulting with the child’s doctor or diabetes educator.

    Remind teachers, event organizers, and/or chaperones that the student needs continual access to snacks, water, and diabetes supplies, and should always know where the nearest bathroom is located.

Parents experienced in child diabetes care also suggest talking to students about what they feel comfortable managing on their own, and what they’d like help with, and they urge parents not to feel pressured to attend, or chaperone field trips.

“Once you get through the first one when your child goes on her own, it really gets easier because people realize that it can be done,” says nurse practitioner and diabetes educator Anastasia Albanese-O’Neill, parent of a busy adolescent with type 1 diabetes. “If people can climb Mount Everest with diabetes, a school field trip should not be impossible.”

Sources: American Diabetes Assoc; Diabetes Forecast; U.S. Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights; Is Diabetes A Disability?
Photo credit: K.W. Barrett

* People with diabetes of all types are protected under the ADA.

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