August 26, 2002
A new school year: starting off healthy
from the American Academy of Pediatrics
As parents know, the beginning of a new school year requires a great deal of advance work, but there is more to it than buying new supplies and clothing. Preparing for students' health needs is an important part of the process.
"Children need to feel their best in order to learn, and schools need to be able to provide for students' daily healthy issues as well as special needs, accidents and emergencies," says Louis Z. Cooper, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "So it is well worth the time it takes to make sure each child's health and medical requirements are anticipated and covered for the upcoming school year."
Most schools provide one or more health forms that need to be upgraded each year, and these are a good starting point for parents. They should be completed promptly. Of course, this may require scheduling a well-child visit with the family's pediatrician that includes any immunizations required for school entry, as well as a sport physical if one is needed.
Parents and pediatricians in some parts of the country have encountered shortages of certain vaccines. Fortunately, public health officials anticipate that the vast majority of these will be resolved in time for the start of this year.
In case of accidents or crisis situations, emergency information must be kept-up-to-date. Most schools provide appropriate forms for basic contact information. But some children have conditions and special needs that require additional communication with school health personnel. A form designed for this purpose is available at http://www.aap.org/advocacy/blankform.pdf
In addition, children with chronic illness may require a written, individual health plan that the school should follow, based on directions from the child's parent and pediatrician. This will ensure that proper steps are taken if the child develops symptoms while school, and that his or her activities are not restricted unnecessarily.
"Sometimes a child's health changes from one school year to the next, and these changes might affect his or her school day," says pediatrician Howard Taras, MD, chair of the AAP Committee on School Health. "It is important for parents and school staff to discuss any new medications, allergies or other concerns to be sure they agree on how these will be handled."
Dr. Taras also reminds parents to ensure arrangements have been made on or before the first day of classes for the school to have in stock any medication the student needs.
Once the school bell rings on that first day of classes, children will be spending many hours each week "on campus." Discussing health issues before the start of the year helps children, parents and school staff to ensure students' health and safety all year long.