Children in a classroom raising their hands to answer a question

Blackboards and Bathrooms: A comprehensive resource to help teachers support the education of children with IBD


Written by: CDHF

Updated: November 14th, 2022

Read the full article or find exactly what you’re looking for!

  1. What do I need to know?
  2. Supporting students with IBD
  3. Issue resolution
  4. Removing obstacles

Blackboards and Bathrooms has been created especially for you – the educator.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term for two disorders: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD causes inflammation (redness and swelling) and ulceration (sores) in the digestive tract. Those living with the disease frequently experience the urgent, unexpected need to have a bowel movement and often require immediate access to a bathroom. The disease is unpredictable, embarrassing, debilitating and stressful. Students with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may need additional support.

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF) has created Blackboards and Bathrooms, a guide to provide educators with the resources they need to support students living with IBD. Our goals are to help minimize the burden of teaching students with IBD and minimize the negative impact this disease has on a student’s academic performance and school experiences.

Blackboards & Bathrooms provides practical strategies and tools to help students with IBD thrive in your classroom. As a teacher, you have a special opportunity to enrich the lives of students living with IBD. We’re hoping this guide will ease the way for you and your students.

The Impact of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is chronic and inconsistent. Symptoms can vary dramatically from wellness one week to illness the next. Students with IBD may have flares (when symptoms get worse) that occur unexpectedly and with alternating periods of remission (when they are well). Your student may not appear ill even when the disease is active.

Frequent diarrhea can lead to weight loss, poor growth, dehydration, malnutrition, and anemia. And, medications for IBD can affect mental functioning and mood in highly variable ways. IBD symptoms, clinic appointments and tests may also interfere with punctuality, attendance and engagement at school. If students don’t have the opportunity to catch up, they may become frustrated and lose interest during learning activities and risk falling behind.

All of these factors may lead to day-to-day fluctuations in energy, concentration, participation, and achievement. While every day is different for people with the disease, we have tried to summarize some common issues to help you understand what these children live with.

Students with IBD may suffer from:

Students with IBD often miss out on school experiences because:

When attending school, students may struggle with:

Privacy in the school and classroom

Certain people at school will need to know your student has inflammatory bowel disease. You, the principal, and resource teacher will be part of an inner circle. Staff members should also be made aware of the student’s need to immediately access the bathroom. The student should always carry the CDHF IBD All Access Pass with them.

Decisions about whether to disclose the illness to schoolmates are best left to the student. Some students are eager to share information about their illness while others prefer complete privacy, and still others fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Helping classmates understand

To help build a better understanding about inflammatory bowel disease and better relate to the IBD student, you can share some basics with your class. First, be sure to ask your IBD student for permission, to be sure they are comfortable with your doing so.

Here are some helpful facts:

Returning to School After a Flare

While school can sometimes be a challenge, especially during flares, going to school helps the child with inflammatory bowel disease regain a sense of normalcy and provides a lifeline of hope for the future. The child’s physician or parent should provide the school with a summary of what to expect.

Depending on the student’s academic performance before and during the absence, the resource teacher may recommend setting up an IEP meeting that includes faculty, administrators, special education personnel, and parents.

IBD All Access Pass

Students living with inflammatory bowel disease need immediate access to a bathroom. Every student in your school with the disease will have their own CDHF IBD ALL ACCESS PASS. Teachers and administrators need to understand that a child who shows this pass is not to be questioned or penalized.

Please post a copy of the pass along with the student’s photograph on staff information board(s) to ensure all staff are aware of the child’s disease and need for immediate bathroom access.

As a teacher, what do I need to know about working with students who suffer from IBD?

Issue: Attendance

What you need to know:

Issue: Classroom Experience

What you need to know:

Issue: Physical activity

Issue: Mental Health

Issue: Medications

How can I support a student who suffers from IBD?

IssueWhat you need to know
Bathroom AccessStudents with inflammatory bowel disease must be allowed to leave the classroom to go to the bathroom without delay or fuss. Other staff need to be aware of this as well.
Questioning a child in front of classmates is embarrassing and the delay may result in an accident which adds to the humiliation. You can design a signal to avoid drawing attention. If the student needs to use the bathroom often, consider moving the student to a seat near the door and allowing him/her to use staff or disabled toilets as communal toilets offer little privacy.

NOTE: It is possible that an IBD student may use the unlimited bathroom pass to avoid certain responsibilities. It is important that you have an open discussion with the student in private if you suspect this to be the case.
Dealing with painChildren don’t always let adults know when they are experiencing pain and most people prefer privacy when they are in pain. If you suspect your student is in intense pain, ask him/her in a private moment and offer them the option to leave the classroom to rest in a predetermined location.
Impact of treatmentStudents with IBD often take medications that may impact their energy levels, cognition, and focus. Students may also experience physical side effects due to their treatment, such as puffy cheeks and acne. Some medications also weaken the immune systems, making students more susceptible to illness and infections. Students with IBD should avoid classmates with infections/ infectious disease. Ensuring good hand
hygiene in the classroom is an effective protective measure.

A small minority of children with inflammatory bowel disease have ostomies (an artificial opening allowing waste products to drain into a bag outside their bodies) on their abdomen and may require assistance with their ostomy supplies. Ideally, classroom interruptions will be timed so the student doesn’t miss important work or events.
Social issuesSocial adjustment is as important as academic success. As a teacher, you can observe signs of social distress, such as interpersonal difficulty with peers, avoidance of social activities, or reluctance to attend school. In such cases, you can inform the student’s caregivers and put appropriate support systems in place.

What steps can I take to help students with IBD? 

There are many steps you can take to help students with inflammatory bowel disease get the most out of their school experience, both inside and outside of the classroom. Here’s a summary of the most common school-related needs for a student with IBD – and the best ways to address those needs.

IssueWhat you need to know
Bathroom accessProvide student with an “IBD all access” bathroom pass and permission to use an immediately accessible bathroom, without question or penalty.
Provide classroom seating that facilitates access to the bathroom.
Opportunity to restEnsure there is a recognized place to lie down, if necessary. Store a change of clothing at the school.
MedicationsAllow the student to self-administer medications (if trained to do so) at school.
Alternatively, leave the medications in a secure location accessible to trained 
staff member(s) or to a health worker who visits the school to administer the medications.
Personal suppliesAllow student to carry a small bag (subject to inspection) with sanitary products, a change of clothing, medication if applicable, a cell phone for contacting caregivers, and other needed items.
Attendance and
Do not penalize for tardiness or absences related to IBD. Assign the student one major project on any given date. When the student is feeling unwell, limit the amount of work/ homework required for that
day/ week. Do not require him/her to take more than one school test/exam per day, and reschedule tests as needed. Make “stop-the-clock testing” available without penalty. (If the student needs a break, the time for completing the test will be extended by the duration of the break taken).
Physical educationThe student can determine if he or she feels capable of participating in a given physical education unit. Allow student to use their judgment when participating in physical education activities. Should a consistent lack of participation occur, request a doctor’s note from the student’s physician.
Academic supportAssist student in making up any missed class time and work, including waiving, modifying, or substituting assignments. Consider more formal academic accommodations (e.g., individual education plans) on a case-by-case basis.
IBD students should have the opportunity to partake in school excursions, with reasonable accommodations (e.g., being driven by a parent) if needed.
·When outside the school, supervising school personnel should help identify bathroom facilities for the student.
with parents
Inform parents about infectious disease outbreaks in the student’s school.
Ask parents to inform you about any medical changes, and share your own observations with parents. Engage resource staff as needed to advocate for the parents and student at the school board level.

How can I remove obstacles for an IBD student?

For many issues, resolution for your student living with inflammatory bowel disease may be easy. Others issues may prove to be more challenging. Below are some ideas to consider for overcoming obstacles.

School rules prevent students from
going to the bathroom without
Provide the student with an all-access bathroom pass – 
no questions asked, no denial of access
School bathrooms are kept locked for
security reasons
Work with school administration to
develop a protocol to ensure access for
your student
The student is afraid of being teased or
bullied while in the bathroom
Provide student with access to a private
bathroom (e.g., staff bathroom or
bathroom in teachers’ lounge)
The student is reluctant to go to
the office to have medications
Combine the visit with an unrelated task
that the child can feel good about (such
as delivering a message or attendance to
the office)
Foods that worsen symptoms are to be
served at a class party
The student will know what foods are
“safe” and tolerable. Where possible,
try to provide alternatives that the
student can eat
A field trip location (e.g., conservation
area) has poor bathroom accessibility
Research other venues that provide a
similar learning experience and have more
accessible facilities
An extracurricular event is far away,
requiring a long bus trip
Arrange to hire a bus with a bathroom.
Enlist the student’s parents (or other
adults, with parental permission) to drive
the student
The school doesn’t offer suitable
intramural or extracurricular sports for
the student
Find out what sports are of interest to the
student and consider starting a team

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