School Staff Can Give Insulin to Diabetic Kids in Schools

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on August 16, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Budget cuts in California have affected every facet of life, especially education. Only 5 percent of schools have a full-time nurse, and 26 percent of schools have no nurse at all. This precarious situation has made it difficult for diabetic children -- who may need insulin shots regularly or at any given time -- to attend school regularly. Either kids would miss school, or parents would have to leave work to administer medication, The Sacramento Bee reports.

A group of parents filed a class action lawsuit alleging that their respective school districts failed to meet the obligations to diabetic students as set forth in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of a settlement, the State Department of Education issued a Legal Advisory allowing a "voluntary school employee who is unlicensed but who has been adequately trained to administer insulin pursuant to the student's treating physician's orders as required by the Section 504 Plan or the IEP."

Unauthorized Practice of Nursing?

The American Nurses Association ("Nurses") initiated the present action by challenging the Legal Advisory created in the settlement of the federal class action. The Nurses claimed that California is "condoning the unauthorized practice of nursing." The Supreme Court of California, reversing the two lower court decisions, did not agree.

Plain Language of California Law

California Education Code § 49423 provides that students who are required to take medication during the school day "may be assisted by the school nurse or other designated school personnel." The use of the phrase "other designated school personnel" proved to be significant here, especially because it's provided as an exception to the rule that only licensed providers may provide health care. This was especially true in light of the legislative history that indicated the problem of children missing school and parents having to leave work to administer medication.

The Nurses made several other arguments and the court found those equally (if not more) unpersuasive. Finding that state law was unambiguous, the court did not need to determine whether federal law would preempt state law.

Monday's decision is a victory for students and parents alike. The attorney for the Americans with Diabetes Association, Dennis Maio, stated "he was 'gratified with this decision, which ends the discrimination in our schools against children with diabetes once and for all,'" reports The Sacramento Bee.

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