A family in Herriman, Utah is suing their local elementary school after the administration said their 8-year-old son with type 1 diabetes would not be allowed to attend school, The New York Times and The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week.
Caly and Wade Watkins’ son had attended Butterfield Canyon Elementary School through the first grade while living with type 1 diabetes. Previously, his shots were administered by the school nurse during the school day.
Over the last school year, however, a dispute between the school and the parents over their son’s insulin injection routine escalated and ultimately resulted in the school barring the boy – identified only as K.W. in court records – from bringing his medication to school.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” Caly Watkins told the Tribune. “He wants to go to school. It’s frustrating because he’s perfectly healthy to do so.”
T1D Exchange requested an interview with the school and the family for this story, but those requests were not granted.
Navigating the protections and limits of the ADA
Diabetes is nationally recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act as a protected disability for which schools, as well as workplaces, must provide reasonable accommodation.
The state of Utah specifically requires the following criteria for accommodating students with diabetes:
- School staff such as teachers, coaches, or principals may be trained to administer insulin and glucagon.
- Schools are required to train two or more volunteers to administer glucagon within reasonable time of receiving a doctor’s orders.
- Capable students may carry their diabetes supplies, self-administer medication, and self-manage their diabetes at school.
So if young K.W. spent two years in the system with the nurse administering his shots, and diabetes is protected under ADA, why the problems?
Coping with different insulin regimens
At the heart of the Watkins’ dispute with the school district is their son’s insulin regimen, which differs from those employed by some other children with diabetes – including others who have attended Butterfield Canyon Elementary.
Because of his sensitivity to insulin, K.W. uses a diluted solution of commercially available insulin. In the past, the school nurses had access to insulin as well as the dilution factor and would administer his shots for him.
However, the Watkins family told reporters, the process failed on several occasions, even though Caly had the nurses message her images of the dilution process. Their lawsuit against the district alleges that on at least one occasion, the boy almost received 10 times more insulin than his recommended dose.
For the Watkins family, the solution was to pre-fill syringes at home with the correct dilution and send them to school. They endeavored to get a 504 plan – one which provides any child with a recognized disability the reasonable accommodations they will need to complete their education.
However, they ran aground of the district’s regulations requiring, among other things:
- All prescription medication must be in the original container labeled by the pharmacy with the name of the student, the name of the health care provider, the name of the medication, the dosage, the time the medication is administered, the route, and the expiration date.
- Medication delivered by syringe may not be pre-filled except by the drug manufacturer or a registered pharmacist from a licensed pharmacy; other pre-filled syringes cannot be accepted.
Seeking a workable solution for the family
Thus, the medication plan that the Watkins family worked out for their son conflicted with the school district’s regulations. It will be up to the courts to work out the merits of their claim that the school’s demand that every pre-filled syringe be individually labeled and sealed by a pharmacist is unreasonable. K.W. was forced to complete his entire second grade from home.
“This is discrimination,” Caly told the Tribune. “His rights have been violated just because he has a medical disability. That’s no reason to kick him out.”
The school, for its part, asserts that the letter of their policy must be followed. In the event that another student or staff member somehow might accidentally receive the diluted insulin, the exact content of the syringes would be unverifiable, school officials argues.
In the lawsuit, the Watkins family is seeking their son’s re-entry into the school system and damages.