The “Seizure Smart Schools” requirements approved by the Legislature are aimed at raising awareness about seizure first aid.
Pediatrician Anna Milz used to clear her work schedule to go on school field trips with her son Jacob. He’s 12, in middle school, plays Dungeons & Dragons with his friends in his free time and also has epilepsy.
But for Jacob and other children with epilepsy in Minnesota, this school year looks a bit different.
New “Seizure Smart Schools” requirements took effect this school year, after winning approval from the Minnesota Legislature last session. Every child with a known seizure disorder needs to have a Seizure Action Plan in place at school, and all school staff members must have access to information from the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota about seizure first aid.
Epilepsy can be unpredictable, and nurse Amy Graham, who works at Friendly Hills Middle School in Mendota Heights where Jacob is a student, said the legislation has made a difference in the safety of the school as a whole.
“Before the legislation passed, I was really only connecting with the teachers of those specific students, which is a great place to start,” Graham said. “But realistically, when you’re within the walls of the school, that seizure could happen anywhere.”
After the legislation passed, she gave a presentation about seizure first aid where she also distributed the materials from the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, and now every staff member at Friendly Hills knows the basics.
The self-study materials from the foundation include information on how different types of seizures present behaviorally and symptomatically, as well as information on what to do when someone has a seizure.
Though most children like Jacob who have been diagnosed with epilepsy will have already had plans in place with a school nurse, sometimes seizures can happen to children without an epilepsy diagnosis. Making sure all students can receive proper first aid if needed is one of the key points of the legislation.
“Seizure Smart Schools really is an extension of our commitment to health equity,” Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota CEO Glen Lloyd said. “For students and families to have the reassurance and the confidence that school personnel are well trained and know where to go get answers … signals that there is a full understanding that epilepsy knows no kind of traditional boundaries and barriers.”
More than 7,000 children in Minnesota are living with epilepsy, Lloyd said.
The foundation has been helpful in educating not only adults but children as well. Milz, who also has a younger daughter with epilepsy, requested that the foundation come in to give presentations in her children’s classes. The presentation shows their peers basic seizure first aid so that they too can be heroes in their own way, Milz said. Even knowing when to go get an adult can make a difference.
“We encourage classrooms across the state to talk about seizures at an age-appropriate level to decrease the stigma,” said Sara Goodno, the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota’s advocacy and public policy manager. The foundation can supply teachers and schools with classroom kits upon request.
Milz said that at Friendly Hills, Jacob is becoming a great advocate for himself and opening up his own conversations about epilepsy. He recently started going to school with a service dog, Hazel, who has sparked even more conversations about seizures.
Graham said having a visible service animal at school has given Jacob the opportunity to start the conversation with his classmates even more.
As a whole, advocates said, the Seizure Smart Schools legislation will make school a better place for any children who ever experience a seizure. And Milz no longer feels like she always needs to be there for field trips or other school activities.
“Now … it doesn’t have to be so hard for all those things that are regular daily life things like going to school,” Milz said. “There is more of a safety net for not just my family, but my patients and the community overall.”
Source: startribune.com, Nadine Manske. Photo: Carlos Gonzalez