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How I know Alberta Needs a Policy for Students with Type 1 Diabetes

IMG_2310When my son Alexander was in grade four we moved to Calgary from New Brunswick where we had been well supported with his diabetes in school. Uncertainty about support in a Calgary school added to the stress of moving across the country. But we lucked out because that neighborhood school had a clear protocol. We naively assumed that quality of care would continue within the Calgary schools. That was not our experience.

Grade five meant switching schools and we were shocked at how different this school was in its approach. Throughout our initial meeting we were repeatedly told, “We are not medical people.” Yet we were not asking for medical assistance. Every request was met with a no. Could we store an insulin pen in the fridge in case our son’s blood sugar went high? No. Could we store juice boxes in the gym in a special box? No. Would the supervisor on the playground have any juice or treatments in their emergency pack to help my son if he had a low blood sugar? No.

Perhaps we should have looked for another school, which some Alberta parents of students with type 1 have been forced to do. But we wanted our son to go to school with his friends and attend the same school as his older sister. Every child in Alberta deserves this choice. The general lack of support meant that I did not feel comfortable being any farther away than 20-30 minutes from Alexander’s school. Going back to work didn’t feel like an option, a financial hardship in an expensive city. Many parents of students with type 1diabetes must make similar decisions about work if they do not believe their child is safe at school.

One of the highlights in elementary school was the week-long, outdoor school where students sleep in teepees and learn about nature in the outdoors. How could our student with type 1diabetes attend and stay safe? The school offered one option and one option only. A parent could accompany him to camp. That parent needed to be my husband because I would not be able to access the teepee with sleeping adolescent boys in the middle of the night to check blood sugars. If I attended, my son would have to sleep in another building with me. That doesn’t constitute fully participating in the experience.

Excluding children with type 1diabetes from field trips if a parent cannot attend is hardly nurturing that sense of belonging promised in the Alberta School Act.

Students with diabetes have the right to the same opportunities as other students and that access must be available no matter where you live in Alberta, no matter what grade you are in, no matter which school you attend and no matter your family situation.


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