Children with chronic health conditions spend most of their day in the school system. The complexity of illness management and disease sequela can alter their school experience. However, little is known about what educators are concerned about if these children are in their classroom.
To assess educators' perceptions of the impact of having children with different chronic health conditions in the classroom.
Teachers and other school professionals in 23 elementary schools were surveyed about the impact of having a child with each of 6 chronic health conditions—AIDS, asthma, congenital heart disease, diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, and leukemia—in the classroom. They responded to 13 statements about the potential academic impact on the child, impact on peers, personal risk or liability, and additional time or attention demands for the teacher. Total scores were determined for the degree of perceived impact for each issue and chronic health condition and the proportion of teachers with negative perceptions for different issues.
The mean total scores (2.4 of 5) showed overall a positive perception by school professionals about children with chronic conditions in the classroom. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and epilepsy were perceived to have the most impact and asthma the least impact. The 2 educator issues (time or extra attention and personal risk or liability) were of the most concern to educators. Fifty-three percent were concerned about an emergency occurring with the child in the classroom and 27% were concerned about legal liability. Educator concerns of the risk of classroom emergencies or death were disproportionate to the clinical risk of the conditions especially for epilepsy and congenital heart disease.
Overall school professionals have positive attitudes about children with chronic health conditions in the classroom, but concerns about specific diseases and issues exist. If parents provide most of the disease information, some of the educators' concerns voiced in this study may not be addressed. Health care professionals can help by providing educators with appropriate information about the risk and functional impact of childhood chronic health conditions.