August 31, 2023

Going Back to School with Diabetes

Back-to-school season can be stressful for any parent, and there’s even more to worry about if your child has diabetes. This comprehensive guide from US MED can help make sure your prepared.

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Affectionate African mother talking to her small daughter while saying goodbye before going to school for the first time.

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Is your child among the estimated 49.4 million students enrolled in America’s public elementary and secondary schools? If so, there’s a good chance you feel a bit anxious during the early fall months. Back-to-school season can be stressful for any parent, and there’s even more to worry about if your child has diabetes. In that case, you’ll need to account for everything from their ability to manage this disease at school to what they’ll have for lunch every day.


By establishing a diabetes management plan, meeting with staff members at your child’s school, and taking a few other common-sense steps, you can get the new school year off to the best possible start. Read on for everything you and your child should know about going back to school with diabetes.

Create Your Diabetes Management Plan

If your child doesn’t already have a diabetes medical management plan (DMMP), you’ll have to create one with the help of their diabetes healthcare team. This document is the key to ensuring your child gets the diabetes treatment they need at school—it serves as an at-a-glance overview of their entire treatment plan.


Your child’s DMMP should cover:


  • Basic personal information (their name, date of birth, etc.)
  • Emergency contact information
  • The blood glucose meter they use
  • Their blood sugar target range
  • An overview of their insulin usage
  • Information on their continuous glucose monitor settings
  • Hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia treatment strategies


When the DMMP is complete, give it to your child’s school along with any diabetes supplies they might need for treatment. Still, your child’s plan shouldn’t be written in stone. Be sure to update this document annually to reflect any changes in their approach to diabetes treatment.


Along with that, you’ll want to sit down with your child and talk to them about their DMMP. Naturally, the topics included in this discussion will vary based on their age—older children will be able to understand the finer details of their management plan, but a broad overview is more fitting for younger children.

Speaking with Staff About Your Child’s Needs

After you’ve submitted your child’s DMMP to their school, it’s time to take the next step—talking to school staff members about their needs. As the primary person responsible for your child’s diabetes treatment away from home, the school nurse should be in attendance at this meeting. If other people at your child’s school are unfamiliar with diabetes treatment, ask the nurse about setting up an in-service for teachers, administrators, and additional staff and faculty members.


Other topics you should be sure to address during your meeting include:


  • Potentially creating an Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Your school’s diabetes-related policies and emergency procedures
  • Creating a schedule for regular follow-up meetings with your child’s teacher/school nurse

Tips for Managing Diabetes During the School Day

The steps described above will make life easier for your child at school, but they aren’t the only diabetes-related factors you’ll need to consider. Other essential elements of diabetes management throughout the school day include:

Keeping Track of Insulin Levels

Like anyone else with diabetes, there are two primary devices children can use to check their glucose levels:


  • A “traditional” blood glucose meter, which measures glucose levels in a drop of blood collected from a finger
  • A continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system, which uses a small sensor inserted under the skin to provide regular updates on a wearer’s glucose levels


Generally speaking, CGM systems are easier and less time-consuming to use than blood glucose meters. Along with that, young children can wear many leading CGM systems. However, these devices can’t be used on their own—in situations where your child’s diabetes symptoms don’t match their readings, they’ll still need to confirm their blood glucose levels with a fingerprick test.


Knowing What to Eat

While packing school lunches for your child, following their diabetes diet is crucial. This diet will vary based on the advice of your child’s healthcare team, but common diabetes diet staples include:


  • Fresh fruits and veggies. Carrot sticks, apple slices, and other fruit and vegetable options are excellent choices for kids with diabetes.
  • Lean protein sources. Meat and poultry are obvious picks, but it’s also a good idea to include plant-based proteins like beans and nuts in your child’s lunch every so often.
  • Low-fat dairy. Foods such as 1% and skim yogurt and cottage cheese can easily fit into a diabetes diet—just treat higher-fat dairy products with caution.
  • Whole grains. Whole-grain bread, crackers, and other whole-grain foods typically have a lower glycemic index than refined alternatives.
  • Healthy beverages. While it may be tempting to put the occasional juice box in your child’s lunch, sweet drinks like juice can make it much more challenging for them to control their blood sugar. Instead, go with a bottle of water or (sugar-free) flavored sparkling water.


Veggies That Are Healthy Sources of Carbs


Are you looking for extra inspiration for delicious, diabetes-friendly lunch ideas? If so, you’re in the right place—check out US MED’s database of recipes created with people living with diabetes in mind!

How to Support Your Child

When you’re putting your child’s DMMP together, it’s also a good idea to prepare a 504 plan or IEP for them. These plans, which are meant to protect your child’s rights under federal law, build on their DMMP by outlining their school’s responsibilities related to diabetes treatment. Among other things, 504 plans and IEPs list everyone who should receive training for diabetes care tasks in situations when the school nurse is unavailable.


Legally, children cannot be denied equal access to school activities due to a diabetes diagnosis. If you need resources to help protect your child’s legal rights, reach out to the American Diabetes Association and local support groups for parents. The Americans with Disabilities Act might be able to provide additional assistance for children with particularly severe diabetes, as can Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Learn More About Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Going back to school with diabetes doesn’t have to be something to dread—at least, not when you have a plan to overcome the biggest challenges associated with this annual transition. When you keep these tips in mind, your child will have everything they need to succeed throughout the new school year.


If you or a loved one has diabetes, you don’t have to manage this condition alone. US MED’s diabetes blog is full of helpful advice on countless topics, from being a parent with diabetes to eating the right foods for diabetes control. Get the information (and supplies) you’re looking for today!

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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