Diagnosed: Teachers’ Misunderstanding Diabetes Can Be Deadly For Diabetic Students

Jan 9, 2019

About 193,000 Americans under the age of 20 have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Modern medical technology makes the disease manageable for kids, but what does it take for kids as they navigate school while living with Type 1 Diabetes? 

One high school student in Davis County told us how he copes with the disease. Fabrizio Paz was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was a five-year-old.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes,” he said. “Because I’ll [have] high [blood sugar] for the whole day. And I’ll get mad and stuff. And it’s just kind of emotional sometimes because there’s no cure, you know.”

Fabrizio’s friends, he said, don’t always understand how he has to treat diabetes.

“I tell my friends, I need to check my blood sugar, because they’re like, “yo, just eat really quick.” And I’m like, I can’t I have to wait,” he said. “It’s not something I can do, just eat right away because I’ll get high [blood sugar], or I’ll go like way low or something. Like, I have to wait.”

Fabrizio has mostly had a positive experience at school while treating diabetes. But one experience he had while in ninth grade demonstrates how misunderstood diabetes can be, and how important it is for teachers to know the signs of low or high blood sugar levels. Fabrizio said he needed to go to the office to check his blood sugar levels, but his teacher didn’t believe him.

“What I remember was, I told him, ‘Hey, I’m low can I go to the office?’” Fabrizio said on his way to the office, he briefly stopped to talk to a friend. The teacher saw and misunderstood the situation.

“And then I was walking out, and he’s like, ‘Hey, come back, come back, come back,’ and I’m like, ‘I have to go to the office because I’m low.’ And he didn’t believe me so I was like, ‘I have to go,’ and I walked out and I went down to the office and I checked my blood sugar and did everything.”

Fabrizio’s mom, Carolina Paz, later received an email from the teacher. The email said, “I know he is abusing the need to go to the office and check his levels to get out of class.”

When Carolina received the email, she asked Fabrizio about it and contacted the school to make sure Fabrizio really had gone to the office.

“So, then I brought Fabrizio in, the principal brought him in, and we checked his meter, his blood sugar meter,” she said. “And in fact, he was in 60s that day. If you’re in the 60, you’re almost going to pass out.”

Fabrizio’s teacher declined to comment, saying it would violate student confidentiality law.

“The school procedures that I gave them in the beginning of the year have that if he’s low, he has to have a buddy walk with him to the principal’s office,” Carolina said. “Because he could pass out at any time. But they were not following what was put on the health plan. And this was signed by the nurses, by the doctor. This is not something I came up with. This is a school health program.”

Kathy Pizzoli is a school nurse for Davis School District—the district Fabrizio attends.

“Low blood sugar is nothing to mess with,” Pizzoli said. “If it’s high, it’s going to cause problems but it’s over a period of time so usually you can catch it. So, like a week of highs is going to cause your kidneys to start functioning wrong, and you don’t feel good. You get that flu, but you usually catch it. But a low goes low so fast and it causes you to get that confusion and lethargy, and that’s when you start having seizures.”

Pizzoli said the risks of untreated low blood sugar can include death, so it is vital for teachers and schools to understand the symptoms in diabetic students. Carolina starts each school year connecting with all of Fabrizio’s teachers to let them know about his illness.

“I send an email to all teachers—with what’s diabetes, what symptoms,” Carolina said.

“When they’re blood sugar levels are high, they lose control of themselves. They can act funny, they can be aggressive, their eyes kind of change. So, I want them to know what the symptoms are because if he’s acting weird, the first thing they should do is tell him, ‘Hey, Fabrizio. Check your blood sugar,’ before trying to discipline him or doing anything else. That’s the first thing they need to do.”

Both Carolina and Fabrizio want people to understand diabetes better and to be patient with the disease.

“It’s an illness that you don’t see,” Carolina said. “You see my son and he looks healthy. So, to be considerate, to me is to understand he does have an illness—that he can control, and I’m grateful for that. But it’s a battle that he has to fight every day.”

Support for Diagnosed has been provided in part by our members and Intermountain Budge Clinic, a multi-specialty clinic offering care for every member of your family in one location. Details found here.