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5 back-to-school tips for a healthy academic year

The dreaded back-to-school melee is often a chaotic rush of gathering supplies and coordinating schedules. There is just so much to buy, so many routines to practice—and that’s not even taking into consideration the stress that a pandemic is causing for the 2020-2021 school year. 

For parents of children with health concerns, there is an extra level of planning that goes into the back-to-school preparations. Nearly 20% of U.S. children take at least one prescription medication according to a 2018 study published in the journal Pediatrics. Many take more than one. Whether or not the child takes the prescription during the school day, parents have to coordinate with the school to help care for their child’s health.

If your child is going back to in-class school this year, here are five back-to-school health tips that can make it as safe as possible.

RELATED: Should your child go back to school during COVID-19?

5 back-to-school health tips for parents

1. Be sure the school is aware of your child’s prescription medications and health issues.

Even if your child will not be taking their medications during the school day, it still makes sense for the school nurse or another responsible official to be familiar with all of your child’s health needs. If ever a medical need should arise at school, this information will help them care for your child.

“Generally, you want the school to be informed about your child’s health,” says Ari Yares, Ph.D., a school psychologist and parent coach in Potomac, Maryland. “Since your child is in school for a large chunk of the day, the school is often in a prime place to monitor general health and look for side effects. In an emergency situation, you want the school to be able to fully inform emergency services about all parts of your child’s medical history.”

2. Ensure your child receives his or her medication on schedule.

If your little one does need to take a prescription during the school day, this can be a bit tricky to coordinate. How can you ensure that your child gets the right dose at the right time if you’re not there to give it? 

Fortunately, most schools have a protocol in place to handle this situation. Elaine Taylor-Klaus, the cofounder of ImpactADHD and founder of Sanity School, recommends that parents ask several questions, starting with, “Who will be dispensing the medication at school?”

“A parent should make sure that dispensing of medication is done by an adult who has agreed to accept the responsibility, and is not something that is randomly assigned,” says Taylor-Klaus. “If a school has a nurse, it is generally that person’s responsibility to dispense medication. If not, a parent should ask how it’s handled.”

She also advises that parents find out who the back-up dispenser will be if the designated person is out for the day and how the dosage will be dispensed. Most likely, the school will ask for a prescription bottle with clear dosage instructions on the label. 

Finally, be sure there is a system in place to help your child remember to take the medication. An ideal situation would be a teacher, nurse, or another responsible adult reminding the child when it’s time to take the medication.

3. Get vaccinations up-to-date.

All states require children to receive vaccines in order to attend school unless they have a qualifying medical exemption. (Some states allow religious and philosophical exemptions, too.) These laws often apply to both public and private schools. 

These immunizations help protect kids from preventable diseases, and they help to keep the disease from spreading to others as well. And while it may seem like skipping doctor visits during the pandemic is advisable, it’s not. The American Academy of Pediatrics is strongly encouraging that children continue medical care, including routine visits and vaccinations.

Check with your pediatrician to find out if your child is up-to-date on all of his or her vaccinations. The shots are often available through state and local health departments as well as pharmacies. Click here to find a clinic near you.

RELATED: Vaccination statistics

4. Share your emergency contacts.

We all hope that our kids never experience a medical emergency at school. If they do, we certainly want to be there as soon as possible. If the school can’t get in touch with you in the event of an emergency, they need to know whom to contact. 

You should ask a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member if they are willing to be your child’s emergency contact. This person should live close to you—and preferably be someone in your quarantine pod!—and be reasonably likely to answer the phone during the school day. 

But aside from that, the school also needs to know all of your provider and insurance information. Yes, it’s a pain to fill out all of those forms, but there is a good reason for it.

“It’s important to remember that the school serves as your child’s [guardian] when you and your emergency contacts can’t be reached,” Yares says. “You want them to have accurate information to share with paramedics and the emergency room in the event of an emergency. This should include a brief medical history, insurance information, and provider information. All of this will facilitate emergent care.”

5. Prepare for allergies.

If your child has severe allergies, ask your allergist what precautions you need to take, and then check with the school to find out their allergy protocol.

“It’s best to be sure that the classroom teacher or student has an EpiPen (if necessary), that it’s not expired, and that someone knows how to use it,” Taylor-Klaus says. “If the student moves to multiple classrooms, it’s probably best for the student to keep the EpiPen and for the teachers to all be informed.” In addition, it might help for the school nurse to have a prescription antihistamine available for emergencies.

If your child has environmental allergies to mold, chemicals, or something else, you might want to talk to your school administration about issues like classroom choices or chemicals used for cleaning. They may or may not have the resources to accommodate your needs, but good communication will help. If your school environment does include environmental triggers for your child’s allergies, you might also volunteer to help remove them.

RELATED: Allergy testing for kids

If your child has health concerns, you might need to put in a little extra work to prepare for the school year. Good communication and forethought are the keys to an effective school medical plan. Whether your child takes a prescription medication, has severe allergies, or some other health concern, parents can coordinate with the school to help ensure a healthy school year.