When your child has a serious or chronic
illness, it's hard to think beyond the next treatment. While health is the first
priority, education also is important. School is part of every child's normal day.
Even the most reluctant learner would rather be healthy and in school rather than
in the hospital. You'll want to help your child stay on top of schoolwork as much
as possible and plan for when they can return to school.
Not only does staying connected to school bring academic, cognitive, psychological,
and social benefits — it's also your child's legal right. Under federal law, kids
or life-threatening illness and/or disabilities are entitled to educational
support. Your child might qualify for free services under the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA). If your child attends
private or parochial school, you might consider enrolling them in your local district,
as services are more readily available in public schools than in the private sector.
With a little planning and a lot of communication, you can help your child balance
treatment and academics.
First, talk to your doctor about how long your child is likely to be away from
school and whether the treatment might affect concentration, doing homework, and meeting
deadlines. Are there side effects that might have an academic impact? What does your
doctor recommend when it comes to attendance, tutoring, or studying?
Then talk to the teachers and school staff, and encourage your child, if well enough,
to do the same. Your child might need a reduced schedule or different due dates for
papers and tests. With your help, your son or daughter can work with teachers to help
plan the workload. The more notice teachers have, the easier it will be to come up
with a flexible solution.
Some kids who spend a lot of time away from school or in the hospital have Individual
Education Programs (IEPs). These are customized goals and learning strategies
created by the teachers, school psychologists (or other specialists), and counselors.
IEPs consider a child's individual academic needs. Under the IDEA, kids who qualify
for an IEP will receive one at no cost, and get free support services (such as a tutor)
to help them reach educational milestones.
Your child might be entitled to a 504
Plan, which will specify physical accommodations to help them navigate
school grounds, access classrooms and bathrooms, find an aide, or qualify for special
You and anyone on your child's education team can ask for an IEP and 504 Plan. To create an IEP, you'll meet with support staff from your
school and the school district. Contact the Special Services Office in your school
district as soon as the doctor says it's time to plan for your child's hospital discharge
and return to school.
Finding Hospital-Based Support
If your child will spend long stretches in the hospital, ask a doctor, nurse, social
worker, or child-life specialist about onsite schooling. Many hospitals provide hospital/homebound
instruction at no cost to their patients.
The two most common types of educational support include bedside schooling
and classroom schooling. Typically, bedside schooling is for children
who are too ill to leave their hospital rooms or have weakened immune
systems due to chemotherapy.
Other kids who are well enough might be educated individually or in small groups in
an onsite hospital classroom.
Licensed teachers who are K–12-certified in various subjects and special education
work intensively with students to make sure that they don't fall behind in their studies.
To stay on track, hospital-based teachers or social workers work closely with teachers
from a child's school to:
maintain curriculum continuity
create IEPs and 504 Plans
arrange for homebound instruction upon discharge
ease reentry into the classroom when the child is well again
School is scheduled around medical tests and therapies, and always considers child's
medical condition and strength.
Whether your child is being educated at school, in the hospital, or at home, remember
that getting better is the main priority. So be realistic about what they can handle.
Kids may feel an unspoken pressure from parents, teachers, and themselves to continue
with schoolwork, and this anxiety could hurt their recovery.
Maintaining ties with classmates and teachers can help your child keep a sense
of normalcy during this difficult time. Your child might be able to Skype or FaceTime
into a lesson at school over the computer. Programs nationwide offer free or low-cost
laptops for use in the hospital. Check with your social worker, hospital school program,
or the hospital IT department to see if this service is available to you.
Your child also may feel cut off socially from friends and classmates. When an
illness means a long absence from school, kids can feel that their classmates and
teachers have forgotten about them. This can lead to depression
about returning to the classroom, particularly if the child looks different after
treatment. Online social networking sites, email, instant messaging (IM), texting,
and talking on the phone can help kids stay connected. Also, ask teachers to encourage
a letter-writing, email, or care package campaign from classmates — you might even
set up a collection box at school where teachers and classmates can deposit notes
Arrange for visits from your child's friends. If the doctor says it's OK and your
child is up to it, encourage him or her to attend school plays, sports events, classroom
parties, and other social gatherings.
Hospital school programs and Child Life departments can help students who are going
back to school. Depending on a child's needs, they may visit the school ahead of the
return date, speak with faculty, attend IEP meetings, or explain to classmates why
the child has been absent, what they can expect when the child returns, and — most
important — how they can help the child feel welcome.
Staying connected will make for a smoother transition socially, emotionally, and
academically when your child returns to school after treatment.