7 Ways Schools Can Protect Asthmatic Children

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional
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Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  With one in ten students having asthma, what happens in a school environment is extremely important for managing pediatric asthma.  We’ve talked a lot in the past about what needs to change but today I would like to tell you about a few school that are getting it right and how they are doing it.

Full-time school nurses as first line of defens In my experience, having a full-time school nurse present is key to ensuring that children receive the right kind of care for their asthma. They’re trained to recognize the difference between an asthma-related cough and a cough caused by a cold or allergies. They’re also able to educate parents, students and teachers about the condition. In our case, the school nurse was the first to notice my daughter’s nasty asthma flare up and low oxygen levels after she came back from school with a virus.  If the nurse hadn’t caught the issue, we may not have noticed until it had become much more severe.  Having nurses on-site, along with adequate funding for school health programs, are essential to getting asthma among the student population under control.

The importance of having an Asthma Action Plan

One of the best ways to get a clear picture of how many students have asthma, along with the steps that should be taken should they experience an attack, is to make sure that the school has an Asthma Action Plan on file. Asthma Action Plans are required for students who have asthma—this is standard practice in most school districts. The plan varies from state to state, so you’ll want to check the CDC’s suggested guidelines for your state. The plan details what should be done during an attack and provides information on ways to prevent attacks and control asthma in the first place. Talk to your school’s nurse or administrator about implementing an Asthma Action Plan for your student.

Educating staff, students and parents about asthma

Education is another key factor in preventing asthma complications at school. At Dayton Public Schools, an extensive training program called the Training, Education, Assistance, Mentorship and Support (TEAMS) project, seeks to improve outcomes for the districts’ students who have asthma. They’re teaching the school’s faculty and staff which students have asthma (based on which students have Asthma Action Plans), how to know if someone’s having an asthma attack, what steps to take and how to remove allergens that trigger asthma from the environment.  dentifying asthma triggers through home visit The Kennett School District, in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the University of Missouri School of Medicine, the Missouri Foundation for Health and the CDC, have worked hard to educate the parents of students with Asthma since 2008. The program also consists of home visits, which is essential to assessing whether conditions at home are contributing to poor asthma control. Removing allergens at home has been shown to help control asthma, as evidenced by the 54.8 percent higher rate of asthma control among Kennett School District’s student population. Note that this is compared to a similar district, as outlined in the Journal of School Health.

Stocking albuterol at school

In 2014, the Sunnyside Unified School District, led by the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health in Tucson, received national recognition for its asthma management program due largely to the fact that they stocked albuterol at school. This means that if a student in the program who didn’t have an inhaler were to experience an attack, the nurse would have quick access to the effective medication. In poor areas, the program is expected to reduce the number of calls to 9-1-1, limit the number of children sent home with symptoms, improve attendance and control asthma.

Allowing asthmatic children to self-carry medication

In many instances, an asthma attack can come on quickly. While students who happen to be right next to the nurse’s office can receive treatment immediately, others may be better off carrying their own rescue inhalers. But as we discussed in my article “Asthma at School: Should Your Child Carry Their Own Asthma Medications?,” there are many factors to consider before allowing your child to self-carry their medications.  Please check out the laws for your state and talk with your school about what steps are needed before having your child carry their own medication.

Schools, the law and you

In December, President Barack Obama signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/Every Student Succeeds Act (ESEA). It includes a provision that allows school districts to use a portion of their federal grants to pay for the development and use of school asthma management plans, access to health services, asthma education and healthy environments, which includes improving air quality.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, your student can not be discriminated against because he or she has asthma and may receive special accommodations since asthma impairs “major life activities,” such as breathing, eating, working or schoolwork. In some instances, a 504 plan may be needed as a way to help your child with asthma navigate school and make up for absences.

If you feel your child is not being treated fairly, report the issue to the school’s principal and then the school board if necessary.  Should you fail to reach a resolution, you can contact the Department of Justice or follow this link for a list of departments that handle ADA complaints.

See More Helpful Articles:

New Research Fights Pediatric Asthma Epidemic

6 Tips for Asthmatics to Manage Spring Allergies

5 Triggers That Could Be Wreaking Havoc On Your Asthma

The Cost of Asthma: Are you financially burdened?


Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).