Communicating with the school often does not enter a parents mind during the nightmarish days after diagnosis. Keeping the school informed, however, lays the foundation for the months or years of collaboration as the child goes through the rigors of treatment for cancer. Parents need to forge a strong alliance with the school professionals to ensure that their child, who may be emotionally and/or physically fragile, continues to be welcomed and nurtured at school.
As soon as your child is diagnosed, notify the principal in writing of the child's diagnosis and hospitalization. This will prevent the school from unknowingly applying a "perfect participation" policy that could lower your childs grades. The next step in ensuring a good relationship is choosing a designated person or advocate to be the liaison among hospital, family, and school. This may be someone within the school, such as the childs teacher, guidance counselor, or special education staff. Often the advocate is the hospital social worker, but she may also be a hospital or school nurse, psychologist, or other motivated individual. The advocate will work to keep information flowing between the hospital and school and will help pave the way for a successful school reentry for the sick child. The most important qualifications for this role are good communication skills, knowledge of educational programs and procedures, comfort in dealing with school issues, and organizational skills. It must be someone you trust to act fairly on your child's behalf.
The advocate should locate a contact person at the school (or hospital) and provide frequent updates about the childs medical condition, treatment, emotional state, and tentative reentry date. The advocate should encourage questions and address staff concerns about having a seriously ill child in school. Privacy laws prohibit these exchanges unless parents first sign a release form authorizing the school and hospital to share information. These forms are available at schools.
We had absolutely no problem keeping the school informed, as we lived directly behind it. The teacher would frequently stop by on her way home to drop off homework assignments and cards or messages from Stephan's classmates. The school nurse, psychologist, and teacher were at my beck and call. Whenever I felt that we needed to talk, I'd call and they would set up a meeting within 24 hours. I gave them the Candlelighters' book, "Educating the Child with Cancer," and they even attended a Candlelighters meeting. They have been wonderful.
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