When children are enrolled in school in the state of Florida for the first time, one of the things that will be required to begin classes is a physical. This ensures that your child is healthy before they enter school, and keeps them healthy by ensuring their classmates are in the best health as well. A physical also allows children to participate in sports, and gets them caught up on any vaccinations they may be behind on.
All states in the U.S. require some level of physical exam or vaccinations before a student may enter public school, but each state may have their own requirements about what types of examinations must be performed, and what paperwork must be filed with the school to prove the physical took place. We’ll look at everything you need to know about Florida schools’ requirements for physicals, and what you need to bring with you when your child goes to their back to school physical.
Basic Requirements for Florida Schools
Any student registering to attend a Florida school for the first time, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, must present proof of a physical examination that was performed within the last year. Florida does not require that this proof is presented in a specific document; however, the state does extend a standardized School Entry Exam form that is recommended. This form must be completed by the health care provider who gives the exam. If your child is transferring to school from another state, that state’s comparable form will also be accepted, if the exam was done within the previous year.
The other documentation that Florida schools require for enrolling students includes immunization records. The Florida Certification of Immunization is the only document accepted for proof of immunization, and must be completed by a licensed Florida health care provider, or by the county health department. This means that if you move to Florida from another state, you must take the immunization records from that state to the county health department, and have them transfer the information to this Florida Certification of Immunization.
At the preschool level, Florida students are required to have the following vaccinations:
- DTaP, or Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular-pertussis
- IPV, or Inactivated Polio Vaccine
- MMR, or measles-mumps-rubella
- Chickenpox, or varicella
- PCV12, or pneumococcal conjugate
- Hep B
From kindergarten through the 12th grade, students are required to have the following vaccinations within the state of Florida:
- DTaP, at least four doses
- IPV, at least four doses
- MMR, two doses
- Hep B, three doses
- Tdap, which must be completed by the seventh grade
- Varicella, at least two doses
With your child’s immunization records and the proof of health exam, your student has met the requirements for medical checkups required to enter a Florida school.
Health Exam Expectations
Florida state law requires that students under the age of 18 be accompanied by their legal parent or guardian for their back to school health exam. For some children, going to the doctor can be a stressful event. It helps to walk them through what will happen at each appointment before you go – and this also helps you to be prepared, with everything you’ll need to have with you ready to go. Here’s what you can expect when your child visits the doctor for this type of appointment:
- The nursing staff or doctor begins by checking the vaccination history and medical history of the child. If vaccinations are required, these will be administered, and the required vaccination document will be updated. Be sure to ask for a copy of the most recent vaccination record before you leave.
- Next, your child’s vital signs will be checked. After measuring weight and height, the doctor or nursing staff will take your child’s blood pressure, check their heart rate, monitor their breathing rate, and take their temperature. These should all be within the normal levels for a child of their size.
- The next part of the exam may include a general look over your child’s appearance. Your doctor may check the condition of the child’s skin, ask them to walk or jump to assess their motor function, and ask them to recite a few facts, such as their birthday, to test their memory.
- Using their stethoscope, a doctor will do a heart exam, listening for heartbeat irregularities. They’ll also do a lung exam, listening for any sounds that indicate unhealthy lungs. These tests are performed together because any sounds of wheezing or gurgling in the lungs can actually point to heart issues rather than lung issues.
- Next, your doctor may perform a head and neck exam, asking your child to say, “Ahhh,” which allows them to get a good look at the tonsils, teeth, and general oral health. They will probably check vision, ears, sinuses, lymph nodes, and the nose during this part of the exam as well.
- The doctor will perform what is called a “postural” assessment, which means they will check the spine for correct alignment, and ensure that the child’s posture is normal and healthy. This is especially important for sports-related exams, where bad posture or an unhealthy spine could lead to injuries.
- The doctor may perform a few other tests, such as a reflex test, an abdominal exam to check for abdominal tenderness or liver abnormalities, and possibly a brief examination of genitalia depending upon the age and previous medical history of the child.
These appointments will not be very invasive, and shouldn’t include anything more strenuous than a few vaccinations, provided your child is in good health. If the exam is specifically sports related, your doctor may include examinations of the skull, joints, or other areas to ensure that your child can withstand strong physical contact. If you remember the physical examinations that your doctor performed on your child when they were an infant, you have a good idea of what your child will experience during this back to school physical.
While these are the basic treatments that most children will receive during a physical, remember that each patient is unique, and a good doctor performs whatever examinations and tests are needed for each child. Your child’s needs may require additional examinations and testing. The Florida School Entry Health Exam requires that doctors indicate only in brief terms if the child is healthy in the doctor’s opinion; specific treatments or examinations are not required by the state.
By walking your child through the exam, or even practicing at home before you go to the appointment, you can reduce their stress, and make the appointment much easier for everyone involved.
Be Prepared for Your Child’s School Physicals
Now that you know what to expect during a physical, you can be prepared for the appointment by bringing these items with you:
- The Florida School Entry Health Exam form. This document can be printed off from many sources online, or picked up at your county health department. Your child’s school may also include a copy as part of their registration packet. Providing this document to the doctor makes everything go much smoother.
- You do not have to bring the Florida vaccination form, as this document is not available to the public. Your doctor will provide this to you. Just be sure you remember to ask for the most recent copy so that you can present this to the school. It is always a good idea to keep your own records at home, so consider asking for two copies, or record the vaccinations yourself in your notes, to add to your home records later.
- Bring a list of any questions you may have for the doctor regarding your child’s health. If this is their first year in a public school, you may want to ask about commonly experienced illnesses in school-aged children, such as the flu, mono, or lice infestations. Your doctor will be able to explain how each spreads, and what you can do to avoid them. This is also a good time to ask if there are healthy habits you can introduce to your entire family that will help your child succeed as a student.
- If you have just moved to Florida from another state, or you have recently changed doctors, be sure that you bring any medical records from previous health care with you. The more information you can bring, dating back as far as birth, the better your doctor will be able to accurately examine and treat your child. Even though you can enroll your child in a Florida school with proof of a physical performed in another state within the past year, you may still need to go to the doctor during this time to catch up on vaccinations, or simply to be sure that your child is in the best health.
While the above-listed things are generally part of the required physical for students entering a Florida school, the Florida School Entry Health Exam form does include space for several options but recommended procedures. These can be filled out by the general health care provider, or by a specialist in the specific field. They include:
- A vision examination performed by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist for students entering pre-k or kindergarten.
- A dental examination performed by a dentist.
- A hearing screening, performed either by your general health care provider or by an audiologist.
These tests can help ensure that your child is developing all their senses normally according to their age group, and ensures that they can participate in sports or other activities. This exam also counts as your child’s annual dental and vision checkup, so you are really killing two birds with one stone here. You can get all of your child’s annual wellness checkups done at once over the summer before school begins, and then not have to worry about taking days off school for these regular check ups. That’s a great way to prepare for a successful school year.
Additionally, if a child falls into certain categories, which are defined by the state of Florida, a health care provider may administer a tuberculosis skin test. This is only done if a child is an immigrant who has recently moved to the United States; if the child has been in recent contact with a case of TB; if the child has an autoimmune disease, such as Type 1 diabetes; or if there is a history that would cause the doctor to believe that the child had been exposed to HIV. This test is performed in complete confidence, and both the administration of the test and its results, are not revealed to the school.
Healthy Children Become Healthy (and Smart!) Adults
Even if your child does not need a back to school exam (for example, if they have been in the Florida school system for many years, and have already submitted their record of physical at least once; or if the child is homeschooled, or attending a private school), it’s still a great idea to seek out an annual healthy physical. Preventative medicine, which is any medical examination or treatment that is performed before the child gets sick or injured, is the best way to ensure that your child’s health stays in great shape throughout their entire life.
When a child is sick, it is much harder for them to focus on their schoolwork. They may find that their mind just won’t focus enough for them to study correctly, or that their memory doesn’t retain information as it should. They may find it difficult to see the chalkboard, but without knowing that vision could be a problem, a child could simply brush the problem off, and spend their school year struggling to take good notes. By taking your child to the doctor, who checks for everything (even the things that you and your child would never have thought to consider), you are providing the best possible care for your child, and giving them the perfect head start to their new school year.
If you are ever in doubt regarding your child school’s physical requirements, please refer to the student or school’s handbook.