Back to school time is exciting but it can also be a little confusing and scary if you have a chronically ill child. When my teenager first started to have problems with migraines, we treated this time of year just like any other parent would. However, getting ready for school with an ill child isn’t as simple as it is for a healthy one. There’s lots to discuss, decisions that need to be made and if you really want to start the year off right, you as a parent have to do a lot of due diligence. Here’s my list of things you need to think about when school’s about to start.
Take a look at your child’s school accommodations
If you’ve already drafted a 504 plan, you were smart (don’t know what one is, click here). Now it’s time to pull it out and make sure that it still works. Lots can happen between a 504 renewal meeting and the start of school. For example, when we wrote Rosie’s plan, it was centered around chronic migraines and POTS. Even though she was spitting up blood at the time, we were optimistic that it would stop. It hasn’t. Now, it needs to be discussed and it needs to be documented and added to her plan.
If you don’t have a 504 plan but do have written accommodations from last year, you need to do two things. First, you need to make sure that the accommodations still work for your child. Then, you need to formally request a 504 meeting at the top of the year so it becomes a legally binding agreement. Not sure how to go about that? Check out this post.
Walk around the school building
The high school we were originally supposed to attend was huge, had multiple floors and was a half-mile long. If Rosie had to go from one end to another and didn’t feel well, she may not make it to class but it had an elevator she could use. Knowing these things is important. It’s also good to know how far away the bathrooms are from class and how long it takes to walk to the nurses office for medications between classes.
Call the school counselor
It’s a good idea to check in with the counselor before the school year starts and visit. Why? Counselors come and go and you may suddenly get a new one like we did the last year of middle school. If you have to start over from scratch, you want to make sure it’s before your child walks through the door. I also suggest setting a time for your child to meet the new counselor and get acquainted the first week of school so they’re comfortable as well. It’s also a great idea to ask them the best way to communicate with them if needed. I do everything via email so I can keep an electronic paper trail and then follow up with phone calls set by appointment.
Have the same counselor as last year? Great. Now’s a good time to check in and tell them about the progress (or lack of progress) your child has made physically and psychologically since the last school year. Counselors are there to help our kids navigate the school environment and succeed. Update them and start the school year off on the right foot.
Make sure you have all your paperwork completed
Need a medication form signed? You better have it before your child walks through the door. And, if your school is like ours, they’ll want medications in original packaging. If you ask your pharmacist in advance, you can request two sets of pill bottles and make your life simple. If you need paperwork from a doctor or a physical form for a sport, be sure to get it before school starts. Makes life simple.
Visit with the school nurse
Lots can change with kids between school years and it’s important that the nurse knows your child and understands your needs. We were blessed with an awesome nurse in middle school and we were able to communicate with her easily. In sixth grade when Rosie had a migraine, the nurse would just call me to pick her up. By 8th grade, she knew that my teenager could tell her what needed to happen and what medications she needed. Very important.
Meet your teachers
This is easy with a grade school child because you only have one. In middle school, it gets a little more complicated. It’s important that everyone is on the same page when it comes to your kid. If you have a 504 plan, the school will have a team meeting to discuss your child’s needs. If you don’t, it’s up to you to work with the school counselor to figure out how to communicate with your child’s teachers if needed.
Sit down with your child and set expectations
My child wakes up frequently with migraines and can’t get to the first couple of hours of school. However, once she has it under control we expect her to attend the rest of the day- even if it’s only one hour. If you have a younger child, you can tell them what you expect but an older one has to be involved in making the decisions. If you sit down before school starts and have an open dialogue, it makes the school year so much easier.
Come up with a plan at school for the days they cannot attend
If you have a child with a chronic illness, chances are they miss a lot of school. If you have a 504 plan, you’ve probably outlined how the make-up work is handled, however if your child has recently been diagnosed, you may not have thought of this yet. In our school district, you can’t request work unless you miss two consecutive days. So, if Rosie had a migraine on a Friday, she couldn’t get the work to finish over the weekend. It didn’t make a lot of sense. We asked our school if Rosie could contact her teachers and get her work if she missed a day and they agreed.
Make sure you have a plan at home for sick days
When your child wakes up sick, it’s helpful to know which parent is expected to stay home so there’s no friction in the house. It’s also important to talk about who goes to school to pick up in an emergency. I’ve adjusted my schedule to be flexible at all times. That way my child knows she can count on me in an emergency and she doesn’t have to worry but not everyone has that flexibility. Having a clear plan at home can really help.
There you have it. My school year prep list. While getting ready for school with a sick child isn’t simple, if you do a bit of planning and prepare it can make the school year go so much easier.
What else would you add to this list?