2005-03-02 / Front Page

New policy helps diabetic students

U.F. Regional School District will allow blood testing in the classroom

Staff Writer

Alexander Cheff, 11, a diabetic fifth-grader at the Upper Freehold Regional School District’s Elementary School, demonstrates how he checks his blood-sugar levels.Alexander Cheff, 11, a diabetic fifth-grader at the Upper Freehold Regional School District’s Elementary School, demonstrates how he checks his blood-sugar levels. ALLENTOWN — Thanks to a new policy the Board of Education has adopted, fifth-grader Alexander Cheff won’t have to visit the nurse so often anymore.

Alex, son of board member Robert Cheff, has type 1 diabetes. He used to see the nurse every day before lunch and whenever he needed to test his blood-sugar levels. Now, under a diabetes management policy adopted by the board on Feb. 16, Alex, 11, can test himself at his own desk.

The Upper Freehold Regional School District currently has eight students who receive treatment for diabetes. While three of the students attend the elementary/middle school like Alex, five attend Allentown High School, according to the board.

According to the new district-wide protocol for self-testing, students with diabetes can carry test kits in a fanny pack or keep them in a designated closed cabinet.

Schools will now permit self-testing in designated areas that allow for appropriate sanitary and storage procedures.

Along with their teachers, students will have to decide the most unobtrusive way for testing to occur.

The new policy also allows students to store or carry snacks to eat as needed to alleviate hypoglycemia.

Alex’s mother, Tanya, said the new policy will help her son and others with diabetes.

She said that Alex, who checks his blood on his own at home, would have to ask to go to the nurse whenever he didn’t feel well during school hours.

Alex is on an insulin pump and has a routine blood check before lunch, but would sometimes have to go to the nurse as often as six times a day.

His mother said that stressful situations, such as the anticipation before a test, could send her child’s blood sugar “through the roof.” Other factors such as exercise could also alter blood-sugar levels.

“There are so many variables that can affect blood-glucose levels,” Tanya said, adding that every diabetic child has a different regiment.

While Alex’s type of diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, type II diabetes — which is more of a lifestyle disease — is on the rise, according to his mother.

Alex was diagnosed with diabetes shortly before entering kindergarten. He has been a regular visitor to the nurse’s office for his entire school career, although Tanya said he knows exactly what his different blood-sugar levels mean.

“The Board of Education worked hard to find a way to be beneficial to both sides — [to] our kids and the other kids in the class,” Tanya said.

School nurse Kim Cocozello worked with the board and its attorney, the school doctor and Superintendent Robert Connelly since the beginning of the school year to plan the policy.

Cocozello said the new policy is a collaborative effort between school officials and families. She said it includes what is required legally and environmentally “to maintain a safe environment for everyone in the school building.”

Alex tests his blood regularly at home with lancets. The ones he will use at school will be self-contained, meaning after he pricks his finger, the lancet will retract into its plastic container. There is no danger of cross-contamination, Tanya said.

Students who opt to self-test at school will have to pack away any used lancets, which they can dispose of at the end of the day in regulated containers in the health office, according to the new policy.

The entire testing procedure takes about 10 seconds, and Alex can determine from his blood-sugar levels if he needs to go to the nurse, Tanya said.

Being able to test his blood at his desk also means that Alex won’t miss class time, Tanya said.

“He can miss 20 minutes in class [per nurse visit],” his mother said. “It becomes significant.”

Tanya said classroom blood testing will also give Alex more of a sense of independence.

“There is so much in a child’s life that is controlled if they have diabetes,” Tanya said.

In addition, she said self-testing could help the school prevent hazardous situations. To access the nurse’s office from his fifth-grade classroom, Alex would have to go down a flight of steps, which could pose a hazard if he feels faint, according to his mother.

While several states have mandated classroom testing for diabetics, Tanya said, New Jersey is not one of them. But she said the school district is being very proactive.

Alex said he checks his blood levels many times a day while at home. He said constant trips to the nurse can affect his schoolwork, although his teachers do try to help him.

“I think the policy will really help me,” he said.

Alex said his classmates know he has diabetes, but not all of them know exactly what that means.

He also said he can help educate others about the condition.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International recently chose him as its junior advocate for the state of New Jersey. As a junior advocate, Alex will visit legislators at the local, state and federal levels to promote awareness and funding for diabetes research.

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