Tackling Disparities in Student Safety
A physician-to-be with diabetes takes a personal approach to research
|Jessica and Jason Skelley|
Jason Skelley has a personal tie to the research he does on school care for Alabama children with diabetes: He was diagnosed with type 1 at 13 years old.
Skelley, a third-year student at the University of Alabama–Birmingham School of Medicine and an American Diabetes Association volunteer, received first-place honors this spring for his project in one category of the National Student Research Forum competition in Galveston, Texas. He surveyed parents about how they felt their children with diabetes were being cared for at school.
The results showed that parents' satisfaction was directly linked to their children's ability to check blood glucose conveniently at school. However, Skelley found that white students were much more likely than their African American counterparts to be permitted to check their blood glucose in class. "We had no idea," he says. "There had never been a study like this conducted in the state."
|To learn about the American Diabetes Association's Safe at School campaign, which is working to end discrimination through education, negotiation, and—when needed—litigation and legislation, visit diabetes.org/safeatschool.|
Looking at 170 parents' responses from all eight state school districts in Alabama, Skelley found that "across the board," minority students were less likely to be allowed to check their own blood glucose. That means their studies were disrupted more frequently by trips to the school nurse's office or the bathroom than their white classmates' were. This was especially true in Alabama's District 5, which serves mostly rural and low-income families.
The survey results show there's "definitely a need" for school staff to be educated about diabetes, Skelley says. For instance, not every school has a full-time school nurse, yet Alabama law requires that only nurses administer glucagon to treat severely low blood glucose or insulin to students who can't do it themselves. That puts students with diabetes in danger, Skelley adds. Combined with an ongoing study of public-school faculty and staff (coordinated by Skelley's wife, Jessica, an assistant professor at Samford University's McWhorter School of Pharmacy), he believes his research will show school districts the need for a statewide diabetes education program.
The medical student hopes his work will eventually help children with diabetes in Alabama. Having grown up with diabetes, he knows firsthand kids' feelings of frustration when they can't easily care for themselves. "Students who have medical clearance to participate in sports and field trips are being told they cannot participate," he says. "If I had been excluded from activities, or district or state events that I had trained really, really hard for, just because there wasn't a nurse or my parents couldn't be there because they had to work, I would have been devastated."