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School Nurses and Students with Diabetes

About 151,000 of the 17 million diabetics in the United States are children. That means one in 400 school-age children have diabetes.

Children with diabetes often must take daily insulin injections, and their blood sugar (blood glucose) levels must be regularly monitored—sometimes several times a day—to avoid life-threatening complications from blood glucose levels that are too high or too low. When a child's blood glucose level is dangerously low, an unstable hormone—glucagon—must be mixed, dosed and administered. Or, more appropriately, the child can be given juice or candy, or a glucose gel can be rubbed on the inside of the cheek.

The AFT strongly supports training teachers and other school personnel to recognize the special needs of children with diabetes and respond appropriately. In states where the law permits nurses to delegate certain nursing tasks to non-medical personnel, the AFT supports the training of volunteer teachers and support staff to perform those tasks--but only if the selection, training, mentoring and ongoing supervision of those volunteers is done by the school nurse. Simply because someone volunteers to learn how to perform medical tasks does not mean he or she is capable of actually performing the tasks. That evaluation should be made by a school nurse, not a school principal or other staff. Further, once-a-year training session is not sufficient to keep skills up to date. The simple four-to-eight hour training modules typically offered to other school personnel cannot replace the skills and years of training a school nurse has.

Many states do not permit the performance of potentially dangerous medical tasks by anyone other than a licensed medical professional. In states that have chosen to protect their citizens in this way, we believe those laws should be respected. Violation of those laws could lead to the school district and school staff being liable for any adverse outcomes. Violations could also lead to teachers or other school personnel being charged with practicing nursing without a license.

Finally, no child with diabetes should be subjected to substandard care simply because he or she is in school. All children with special healthcare needs should have the services of a full-time school nurse. Anything less is dangerous for the student, the employee and the school district. The best solution to the health needs of schoolchildren is to have a nurse in every school.

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