by Jess Snyder
School administration can be a tremendous partner with you as a parent, or can seem more like a political minefield, depending on your past experiences. When your child has a medical condition that requires frequent supervision and assistance, you need to have school officials on your team to help your child navigate his or her day as safely as possible. In this excerpt from Leighann Calentine’s book, Kids First, Diabetes Second, fellow blogger and diabetes advocate Scott Benner writes about his experiences with his daughter Arden’s school.
“Depending on the age of your child at diagnosis, you could be looking at 13 years of schooling to navigate, and we want those years to be smooth ones. I’ve taken a long-term view of my relationship with my daughter Arden’s school officials, nurses, and teachers. Even though we had a rough start, I kept my head, swallowed my pride a time or two, and focused on the more important long-term goal.
When I stopped in to chat with the principal at the end of the year prior to Arden starting kindergarten, I knew we were starting down a bumpy road. This visit went well except for one almost innocuous moment: The principal laughed at me for showing up so many months before Arden would begin school. I realized the principal didn’t have the first idea of how challenging it would be to manage Arden’s type 1 diabetes. I gently expressed that I looked forward to speaking with her over the summer about Arden’s 504 plan.
I spent the next few months creating Arden’s 504 plan, which is comprehensive and strives to be fair minded, while covering all of Arden’s needs. At our meeting, the school presented their own 504 plan—one page and five vague bullet points. When I saw it I said, “I dare you to keep her alive for a week with that.” During the negotiation over Arden’s 504 plan there have been many opportunities for me to become angry, but I never did. You want the sight of your child to evoke caring and empathy, not the memory of you losing your cool in the principal’s office.
A school aide once told Arden not to worry because “her OmniPod could be Photoshopped out” of her school portrait. Instead of entering into a situation that would have only served to dismantle the relationship that I’ve built, I called the school and explained why it wasn’t optimal to give Arden the impression that she should be ashamed of the device that keeps her alive. The staff was properly sorry for what had transpired and the person that said she wasn’t being nasty, she just wasn’t thinking.
In the end, this isn’t about being right. It’s about the players in the situation feeling empowered to help my daughter live her life as normally and as healthy as possible. Today, there is probably nothing I could ask for that wouldn’t be handled with a smile, because I have developed a personal relationship with each person I deal with at the school—relationships that were grown one seed at a time.”
Have you ever experienced conflict with school faculty while working through a 504 plan? How did you resolve the problem?
Scott Benner has been a stay-at- home father since 2000. As a diabetes advocate and social media author Scott shares his daughter’s life with type 1 diabetes from his perspective on his website, Arden’s Day. Scott’s writing is honest, transparent, and a great resource for parents of, as well as people with, type 1 diabetes.