Does Your Child’s Education Stop During Cancer?

Child with cancer on laptop

The ongoing pandemic has drastically altered day-to-day activities such as how one works, but also how students learn. Finding the motivation to sit your child down to read a school lesson is a battle many parents experience. It is an endeavor that takes more resilience for caregiver parents of cancer kids. Schooling adds to an already daunting battle with children undergoing cancer treatments as they experience side effects that hinder their ability to focus and learn. With that said, there is an ongoing imperative for parents of pediatric cancer patients to keep their child “in the game” living as normal a life as possible, which includes staying up on classes and schoolwork.

School Provides Normalcy and Stability to Cancer Kids

While health takes priority for cancer children, there is still an important focus placed on education because every parent plans for their child to move past cancer and resume their childhood. School provides stability for childhood cancer families, reliable schedules, and serves as a safe place. It provides social connections and helps build character. The emotional support provided by school classmates not only provides motivation but also is a child’s focal point for friendships. Additionally, maintaining schoolwork allows cancer kids to keep pace with their fellow classmates and re-emerge into everyday life and, ultimately, the classroom when treatment and the pandemic ends.

Child learning on laptop

Transfer to Online Learning Due to Covid-19 Benefits Cancer Kids

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, most school districts across the nation have put in place new programs to educate our children, such as virtual learning. Education or schooling may look different depending on where you live and the school district you are in. The transition from in-person to online or virtual learning provides some favorable possibilities for parents of cancer kids. Even though remote education can help pediatric cancer patients, a parent must be present to provide assistance and guidance throughout lessons. This can add more stress on an already overburdened caregiver of a cancer child.

When deciding on your child’s education, keep in mind how remote learning might impact your child and you as the parent and caregiver. Also, consider whether your child will be in contact with those at higher risk for Covid-19 complications if you choose to send your child to school during reduced class sizes. Look into your county’s regulations for education following the pandemic as well as consider the best option for school teaching. This can include a clinic-based school, or school-based health centers, which provide less live instruction or homebound teaching. Most school-based health centers are run by a local health care groups, such as a community health center, hospital, or health department.

Educational Options for Cancer Kids

Below are options for a parent to help maintain their child’s education while keeping their own sanity and their child safe. According to the American Cancer Society your options include:

  • Children’s hospitals may have education coordinators and teachers to help the child keep up with school during long hospitalizations or clinic visits. Hospital education coordinators and teachers might also coordinate with your child’s school to arrange other types of instruction. If your hospital does not have a teacher on the team, talk with a social worker, nurse, or child life specialist about getting support to work with your child’s school. The school options that may work best for your child depend on many factors, including the type of cancer and types of treatment. There are a few different ways your child can keep up with school during treatment, so it is best to talk with your team about the best school options for your child.
  • Homebound instruction may be provided by the public school without an additional cost. Check with your school district and find out what kind of educational support they offer, especially as the pandemic may have changed the way this support is provided. The school district might arrange for a teacher to work with your child at home if they have to be out of school for longer periods of time but are not in the hospital. Some children with cancer might go to school during some parts of treatment and then receive homebound instruction or hospital instruction during other parts of their treatment.
  • Attending a hospital or clinic-based school.  When a child will have to be in the hospital for a long time, they might be able to have teachers from their school district or from the hospital school come and teach. In-hospital schooling can also work well for children who do not feel well enough to have more than one hour of instruction a day. Even one hour of school a day can still give the children the feeling of connection to what children without cancer do every day.
  • Attending school during treatment. Some children can go to school during treatment, depending on their treatment schedule, how they feel, and infection risk. Ask the cancer care team when during treatment your child can go to school. Some children enjoy seeing friends when they feel well and can go for small blocks of time during the school day. There may be times when they cannot go because of how they are feeling, treatment schedules, or other factors.
  • Additional support services called 504 plans or Individualized Education Plans (IEP). These may be part of how the school, your cancer care team, and your family work together to help your child participate in school during their treatment and after. The teacher that works for the hospital or the social worker on the cancer care team can help you understand how these services work for children with cancer.

      Private Schools Offer Limited Options for Cancer Kids

      Private schools are not required to offer tutoring so it will depend on the school and/or your child’s teachers to go above and beyond to help your student. Most, if not all, private schools do not pay their teachers to tutor a sick student. The teacher will have to choose to help and/or tutor on their own. Virtual Academies can be an alternative and are offered in many states; California probably has the biggest selection. These academies do not require a parent to act as a tutor or be there during lessons. These academies cost money. Be sure to explain your child is battling cancer and ask if they provide a fee-free program or a sliding scale to help your child.

      If your child is in private high school, they can also enroll in a certified online program, and have those classes and grades transferred to your child’s private school transcript. Doing so, means your child does not have to retake those courses when they return to school. Be sure to check with your child’s private school which online courses (certified schools) they will accept credits and grades from. You may have to pay for a private tutor for your child to help them with these online classes that provide no support.

      Education Plans Are Not a One Size Fits All

      Educational plans or schedules are not a one size fits all for childhood cancer patients and survivors. Each situation is different. Many factors regarding your child’s condition must be considered when determining the best time to have your child rejoin their classmates, so it is recommended to consult your child’s oncologist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a school decision-making tool that includes information on how to weigh benefits and risks. These tools pose health-conscious questions about transportation, immune system responses, and individual school programs in light of the pandemic. They also include medical status such as treatment plan and its affect on attending school.

      Here to Serve recognizes the many challenges our patient families face and offer resources to ensure that important needs are met, such as schooling and education.

      By Bianca Arellano