Parent-School Communication

Effective communication is the cornerstone to ensuring that your child's needs are met at school, which will lead to success in school endeavors. It is important to ensure that the teachers, school nurse and other staff have current and accurate information about your child's condition and health issues. It is important to remember that your child is a special individual, with unique health and education needs. Even if the school personnel have worked with another student with the same or a similar diagnosis or have some other experience they feel has provided adequate information on that diagnosis, they are not prepared to work with your child. The information that the school receives from you will enable the staff to develop a school program that is custom-made for your child. Remember, you and the school staff are working together toward a common goal:  doing what is best for your child.

Now, the difficult question:  how does one go about establishing good lines of communication with the school? The following list provides guidelines to establishing and maintaining effective connections between you, your child, the healthcare providers and the school.

    Nurse examining teen.
  1. Be sure to ask your child's physician for recommendations regarding school re-entry. These recommendations are important for judging when your child is ready to return to school, whether there are any special modifications that your child may need at school, and what information to share with the school nurse. If your child is a patient at KU Medical Center, the hospital school teacher, Dr. Kathy Davis, will talk to you about school re-entry issues and is available to provide consultation and inservice training for your child's teachers, school staff and peers. In addition, interactive televideo connection might be available for routine conferences between the school and the hospital. While at the hospital, you might even conduct parent-teacher conferences using this technology!
  2. If your child has been diagnosed recently with a chronic illness, you are learning a lot of new information. The hospital or your doctor might have pamphlets, booklets and other sources of written information about your child's diagnosis. Ask for an extra copy of each to share with the school. The hospital also might have literature that is designed specifically for school personnel.
  3. Even if your child has had a chronic illness for a while and the school is aware of the diagnosis, it is still important to have regular, ongoing conferences with school staff regarding the current status of your child's health. For example, if your child has lupus, there will be some periods when the disease is in remission and others when the disease flares. With any chronic illness, school personnel need to realize the importance of watching for changes in your child's physical status. Students with sickle cell anemia will need to take different precautions at recess during periods of extreme heat or cold. School personnel must be told about these issues.
  4. Conferences should be held on a regular basis. As an absolute minimum, you should ask to meet at the start of each year with all school personnel who interact with your child, including teachers, secretaries, school nurse, administrators, and music and physical education teachers. Conferences with your school personnel should be arranged quarterly, more often if your child's health status changes. If you are concerned about any aspect of your child's school program, it is best to contact the appropriate school staff member right away, rather than waiting until a bigger problem develops.
  5. Effective, on-going communication is more difficult when the student is in secondary school and interacts with multiple teachers each day. However, it is still important for the teachers to have accurate information about your child's health. The initial conference at the beginning of the year should include all teachers. After that, you may decide to meet with individual teachers, or ask the school counselor or nurse to share information with individual teachers.
  6. Keep track of information.
  7. A spiral notebook that travels between school and home may be an effective communication tool, especially on the elementary level. For example, if your child with diabetes has had fluctuating blood sugar levels, you and the school nurse can keep one another apprised through documenting blood sugar readings in the notebook. Or, if your child with JRA or cancer is on steroids that may cause mood alterations, you and the teacher can update one another on your child's mood at home and school. E-mail may be another effective method to share information on a daily basis.
  8. If your child needs any accommodations, modifications or special education services, you must have a written plan detailing the services needed. If accommodations or modifications are needed, the plan is referred to as a "504 Plan" (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act). If specifically designed instruction is needed to meet unique learning needs, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required, as described in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  9. In the interests of your child, it is important that you, your child and the entire school staff feel comfortable with the situation at school. If that is not the case, work with the school to find solutions. It is true that your child's teachers are very busy, but, like you, they want what is best for your child. Often, it is simply a matter of good communication on both sides. Communication will ensure that you are working in concert with one another. School is the best place for your child to be, and a good school experience will help your child feel better and be happier!