Students with Special Health Needs Go To School Too
Forty years ago, it took the initiative of parents who sought equal access to education to gain fuller inclusion of children who primarily had mobility-related special health needs in their local schools. Today, thanks to medical advances and access to excellent medical care, some students may come to school with a wide variety of medical technology. How do parents and school districts work together, to ensure the health and safety of this vulnerable population during the school day?
The term “children with special health needs” encompasses a wide spectrum of medical concerns. It includes children who have allergies of any kind (food, latex, environmental, bee stings, etc.), asthma (which, according to CDC 2008 data, affected 136,267 children or 13.8% in Massachusetts), ADHD and other behavioral concerns, and emotional health issues. But in the year 2014, that’s not all.
Children born prematurely, living with complex genetic or medical conditions, having endured serious injury or life- threatening illnesses like cancer also go to school. Often, it just a part of their everyday life experience to rely on medical equipment to maintain their health needs. This may include a power wheelchair with an oxygen tank or ventilator mounted to supply oxygen to the child’s tracheostomy, an implanted insulin pump for Diabetes or a baclofen pump to address spasticity, or tube feedings or intermittent catheterization. Consider the incredible effort that went into planning to ensure that these children have full and safe access to school for its educational and social benefits.
The Individualized Health Care Plan is a tool first created by Project School Care at Boston Children’s Hospital over 20 years ago, with the goal of making certain that the school’s medical and educational team is fully aware of a child with complex medical needs, and has a fully articulated plan on managing everyday needs, emergency situations, and unknown triggers to a child’s well-being. Districts may have a form of their own, or be willing to create a unique tool to address all of the concerns of a specific student. Today, MASSTART (Massachusetts Technology Resource Team), funded through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), Division for Children & Youth with Special Health Needs, provides free technical assistance to schools that are preparing for the arrival of a student with complex medical needs. Its team of highly qualified nurses helps to bridge the transition to school with parents and their medical providers, ensuring an accurate understanding of a child’s medical needs. To learn more about MASSTART, contact the DPH Community Support Line: 800-882-1435.
Additionally, the 3rd Edition of Supporting Students with Special Health Care Needs: Guidelines and Procedures for Schools was published in 2014 (Paul H. Brookes Publishing, ISBN-13:978-1-59857-063-2) and offers a comprehensive and thorough review of supporting children with a wide range of medical needs, the legal issues related to their education, health care transitions for youth and young adults, transportation, and infection control. Two excellent resource chapters address disaster planning and working with families and students from diverse cultures. Specific guidelines are outlined in 18 areas of medical care. Authors include members of the Project School Care Team. This book is a must-have for parents, school and home care nurses, and anyone who is keenly involved with the daily support and care of a child with complex medical needs.
Family TIES of Massachusetts is a parent-led program that offers information and referral services through its six Regional Parent Coordinators. We are parents, too, and take into account our own experiences as we listen and support your needs. Our Parent-to-Parent Program brings together families sharing similar life experiences, in raising a child with special needs. To find community-based programs and resources or learn about Parent-to-Parent, contact our toll-free line, 800-905-TIES (8437), or visit our website, www.massfamilyties.org.