Insulin in Schools

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A few years ago, we covered a dispute between the California Department of Education and the California School Nurses Association regarding who should be able to administer insulin injections in schools to children with diabetes. At the time, a lawsuit filed by several San Francisco Bay—area parents of children with diabetes had led the Department of Education to relax its rule that only school nurses may deliver insulin to children who cannot deliver it themselves. These new rules, in turn, prompted the California School Nurses Association to sue the state. In the original 2008 trial, a state court judge ruled that under California law, only nurses may deliver medication, including insulin, in schools. Due to the low number of nurses in California schools — in 2007, when the first lawsuit was settled, only 30% of schools had a nurse in the building at any given time — this court ruling meant that many parents had to start coming to their child’s school to administer insulin when a nurse was not available.

Now, many of these parents may be breathing a sigh of relief. Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court ruled on an appeal brought by the state and other groups, including the American Diabetes Association, in favor of allowing other staff members to give insulin injections. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the court found it too burdensome to require, as California state law did, that only nurses give insulin when, in many cases, parents and even children themselves may be trained to do so. The court thus agreed with the original argument by the parents of children with diabetes that their children’s right to an education was compromised by the requirement that only nurses be allowed to give insulin.

Because this court ruling overturned a state law on the grounds that it violated the federally guaranteed right to an education, the California School Nurses Association may appeal the decision in federal court. According to the group, the latest ruling puts children at greater risk for medical errors, since teachers and other staff members lack the medical expertise and experience of nurses. The American Diabetes Association, on the other hand, stressed that training other staff members meant that there would be a backup plan for when a nurse is not available. Schools, the group noted, will rely on staff members who volunteer to be trained in giving insulin injections, so no teacher or other staff member will have to grudgingly accept this new duty.

What do you think — is it reasonable to let school staff members volunteer to give children insulin injections, or should this task be left to medical professionals? Is it acceptable that, according to the Chronicle article, only 5% of California schools have full-time nurses? If there were a nurse available in every school, would it still be a good idea to educate other staff members about children’s diabetes care? Should parents have veto power over staff members they don’t trust to give injections to their children? Leave a comment below!

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