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School Support

Long-term planning is key to school success during and after treatment

Keeping up with schoolwork is possible during cancer treatment with planning and help from others.

When considering your child’s school needs, remember cancer is a long-term illness. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may take several weeks to 2 years or more. Even after treatment is completed, there may still be side effects (known as late effects) that could impact learning and ability to complete assignments.

It’s important to make a plan for school early in treatment and re-evaluate it regularly. 

Make a plan for school early in treatment and re-evaluate it regularly. In this photo, a young cancer patient sits at a table working through school assignments.

Make a plan for school early in treatment and re-evaluate it regularly.

Keeping up with school during treatment:

  • Develop a plan of action and re-evaluate it regularly.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be shy!
  • Establish necessary services.
  • Determine available resources.
  • Open lines of communication.
  • Communicate often.
  • Be an advocate for your child.
  • Stay flexible.
Teacher's hand pointing to a place on a piece of paper with a cancer patient's hand holding a pencil.

Keeping up with schoolwork is possible during cancer treatment.

Ask the right questions

Developing a school plan starts by asking the right questions:

Questions to ask at the hospital:

  • What school services does this treatment center provide?
  • How do I get in touch with the appropriate contact person?
  • Is there a school liaison who can assist with communication with the school and setting up appropriate services?

Questions to ask your child’s school:

  • Who will be the contact person at the school?
  • What is the best way for my child to keep up with assignments?
  • How will my child connect and collaborate with classmates (phone calls, e-mail, Skype)?

Determine services needed

If you live in the same city as the treatment center or in a nearby community, your child will likely be able to keep attending her school. However, your child will have to miss school regularly because of treatments and their side effects. The amount of school missed depends on your child’s diagnosis, treatment plan, and its side effects. Your child may qualify for homebound services, in which a teacher will provide instruction in your home a few hours a week.

If your family lives too far away for your child to attend their home school, you can make arrangements for your child to continue schooling through the hospital.

Figure out available resources

A hospital large enough to provide cancer treatment for children will have school services to support patients, but the format varies depending on the hospital.

Examples of school programs in hospitals:

  • A school operated within the hospital.
  • School services provided by the local school system in the hospital’s community.
  • A liaison who can help coordinate services with your child’s school. Sometimes that person may be a social worker or nurse.

Establish contact people

Regular communication with your child’s school will help ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. To make sure information shared is consistent and accurate, it’s a good idea to establish two people to keep in contact regarding school matters – a school representative and one person with the hospital’s school program. The school may already have a designated person who handles such matters. In elementary schools, often the child’s teacher or principal will coordinate. In middle and high schools, it may be a guidance counselor.

Once the lines of communication have been established, it may be helpful to have an introductory meeting that includes parents, teacher(s) from the child’s home school, a hospital school program representative, and the child (if old enough). This may occur through a conference call for those families who are away from home. At this gathering, questions can be asked and answered, and academic goals for the child can be established. 

Topics to discuss may include:

  • When and how often your child will miss school because of treatment and side effects.
  • How treatment will affect your child’s school performance, cognitive skills, ability to pay attention, and emotional well-being.
  • When, how often, and by what means you will be communicating. Establish a regular schedule, if possible.
  • How to handle making alternate plans if your child is not able to complete certain assignments because of illness.
  • When homebound services may be appropriate.
  • Initiation of a 504 Plan to include accommodations such a reduction of workload.
  • Prioritization of assignments so that your child will not be overloaded with work and will have what is necessary to move to the next grade.
  • When and how your child will transition back to school once treatment has completed.
Explore school services and resources by talking with the hospital and your child’s school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In this photo, a child undergoing cancer treatment completes a school assignment.

Explore school services and resources by talking with the hospital and your child’s school. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Be an advocate for your child

After a plan is in place, it’s important to be an advocate for your child. Being an advocate means promoting the needs of your child and making sure they are being met. Parents are excellent in this role because they know their child better than anyone. 

However, parenting a child with cancer has many stresses and time demands. Your days are filled with making treatment decisions, parenting concerns, and family matters. So you may want to ask a trusted family member or friend to help you stay on top of your child’s schooling. Also, your house of worship or community center may have resources and people who can help.

Whether at home or at the hospital, children with cancer should attend school whenever possible. It helps bring a sense of normalcy back into their lives. Research shows that long-term survivors who attended school during treatment had better social skills, more self-confidence and were also less likely to have academic problems than kids who were in tutoring programs at home. However, illness does make school attendance impossible at times, so it’s important to have an alternate plan in place to help your child be successful.  This may include a part-time attendance, part-time homebound teacher and will allow your child to have continued support from the homebound teacher while school attendance is variable or at a low level. 

No matter what the circumstances, children and teens should maintain social connections to school. When they are able to return to school after treatment, they will still feel part of their class and connected to their friends.

Reviewed: June 2018