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Article of Interest - Court Cases

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Parents Sue Schools, Seek Help For Diabetic Students
Eric Louie, Contra Costa Times, October 12, 2005
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Three Danville parents, another from Fremont and the American Diabetes Association filed a lawsuit Tuesday to require California public schools to assist in insulin injections and provide other help for diabetic students.

The suit, filed at the U.S. District Court Northern District of California in San Francisco, claims the public schools those students attend will not provide such help, and thus deny the children an education to which they are entitled. It names the San Ramon Valley and Fremont school districts, the state Department of Education and the superintendents and governing boards of those agencies as defendants.

"This is a systemwide academic problem," said James Wood, lead attorney with Oakland law firm Reed Smith. The firm is representing the plaintiffs, as is Berkeley's Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, on a pro-bono basis.

The suit says one fifth grader at Rancho Romero Elementary, who is also bipolar and has dyslexia, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2002 and began using a pump to administer her insulin in 2003.

Because of her dyslexia and blurred vision when her glucose level is high, she needs someone to make sure she checks her glucose when needed and takes the right action to give herself insulin. The suit says the district refused to make sure she checks her blood glucose when she should and rejected her parents' request for someone to supervise when she uses her insulin pump.

The suit also mentions a kindergartner at Greenbrook Elementary who needs insulin injections. A school district nurse, who serves five schools, suggested she be the third option for helping with those injections, called only after the young student's mom and the parent of the third student in the suit. The nurse, according to the suit, said no one else at Greenbrook could be assigned to that responsibility.

As for the third student involved, the suit claims Greenbrook staff agreed to test glucose levels, monitor snacks and work her insulin pump but have not provided for that in a written plan or made adequate assurances that student will get insulin or glucagon injections.

State education department officials had not seen the suit by Tuesday afternoon and had no comment, said Pam Slater, a department spokeswoman.

Though Wood said a school staff member who does not have a medical background could assist with the proper training, just as parents with diabetic children do, Koehne said it is San Ramon district policy that is only nurses can administer insulin.

"It's a liability issue, mainly," he said. The district, which has 30 schools, has 4.3 full-time equivalent nurse positions, down from six three years ago.

Genevieve Getman-Sowa, associate development director of the Diabetic Youth Foundation in Concord -- which is not part of the suit -- said getting school staff to assist diabetic students has been a problem. She said the cost of training school staff members and having those people available for the students is a key issue; another is the potential liability of the procedure.

"Some districts think if they say 'no' to everyone, the liability will be off their hands," she said.

Reed said the growing number of school-age youngsters with diabetes means the issue needs to be addressed.

"The irony is there's an epidemic of children with diabetes," he said. "They really can't bury their heads in the sand anymore."


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