Seizure Smart Schools
The United in Epilepsy Twin Cities walk on September 17 at Allianz Field celebrated the implementation of Seizure Smart Schools, which requires all public and charter schools in the state to have staff trained in seizure response.

M Health Fairview pediatrician Dr. Anna Milz knows well the importance of having school staff members understand what to do if a student has a seizure. The Mendota Heights physician has a school-age son and daughter who have epilepsy and suffer seizures.

“It’s scary for an observer to watch somebody have a seizure and it’s unnerving for the patient because they don’t know what’s happening,” Milz said. “It’s important for staff and kids to know what to do in that situation.”

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota has an initiative called Seizure Smart Schools that trains students, teachers and staff throughout the state on treating students suffering seizures. The initiative builds on a program by the same name that the foundation has offered schools for 12 years.

At the start of this school year, all public and charter schools in Minnesota were required by state law to have someone on staff who is trained to respond to seizures. Milz said school staff learned such techniques as catching students before they fall, placing a rolled-up jacket or pillow under their heads and rolling them onto their sides. Some episodes last seconds, others minutes. If a seizure continues, those who are assisting should call 911, Milz said.

According to Milz, students with seizures often carry medication with them, but sometimes bystanders are uncomfortable administering it. A school nurse or a trained medic will be a better option in those situations if students cannot take medicine on their own, Milz said.

Neither Milz’s 12-year-old son nor 6-year-old daughter has had a seizure while at school. However, her son suffers more attacks than her daughter, sometimes experiencing them at friends’ homes.

Those family friends know how to respond because they recognize seizures. “They’ve been very supportive and understanding,” Milz said. “I think having a background (in seizures) has helped them maintain their friendship with my son.”

 

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For Milz, who serves on the foundation’s board of directors, it is all about making schools safer for students with epilepsy. “It’s great if we can make sure schools can provide basic first aid and make sure they’re safe and can get them on the right track to get help,” she said.

Glen Lloyd, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, said about 55,000 Minnesotans live with epilepsy and sometimes face discrimination because of it. The Seizure Smart Schools program demystifies seizures by explaining how they are a medical condition akin to a “lightning storm in the brain.”

The push to make Seizure Smart Schools stronger through state legislation began in 2017 when Ridgewater College student Ruth Schmitz, who suffers from seizures, wrote a paper advocating for Minnesota to become “seizure smart.” She sent the report to her local legislator, who approached the Epilepsy Foundation to build bipartisan support for the legislation.

State agencies have also stepped in to do their part. “We’ve seen a strong response by the Minnesota Department of Education and Department of Health to ensure that school nurses and other school personnel have free training through the foundation,” Lloyd said.

School districts have embraced the opportunity to train staff, he said, and the Saint Paul Public Schools has been among the state’s leaders. All 67 public schools and 72 charter schools in the city have received seizure training. Lloyd said reaching diverse populations has been critical in creating a broader understanding of what causes seizures and how to treat students who have them.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, students with epilepsy do not have to reveal that information to school officials. But Lloyd and the foundation have been encouraging parents and students to disclose that they have the disorder because it results in individualized learning plans and additional resources.

The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota provides in-school classes, webinar videos, printed materials and information on designing “seizure action plans” for students. Lloyd said that parents of children with epilepsy often work directly with school staff on approaches to help their children if seizures occur.

Lloyd said the foundation customizes training to specific age levels. He believes the Legislature’s action, combined with the work of school districts, will create a state that is genuinely “seizure-ready.”

For Milz, who serves on the foundation’s board of directors, it is all about making schools safer for students with epilepsy. “It’s great if we can make sure schools can provide basic first aid and make sure they’re safe and can get them on the right track to get help,” she said.

— Frank Jossi

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