The Washington Post

Feds probe treatment of diabetic students

UPDATED: 10 a.m., Friday

DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said the parent of a diabetic third grader at Davis Elementary was barred from the school “because of a physical altercation,” not a verbal dispute with the principal. After a meeting with DCPS officials, Salmanowitz said, the parent was told she could return to Davis to administer her daughter’s medication.

Second, Salmanowitz said, the policy in question--mandating that only nurses administer diabetes medication--originated not with DCPS but the Department of Health and applies to public and public charter schools. DOH oversees the training of school personnel who administer medication.

She indicated, however, that the policy relative to diabetes is likely to be reviewed.

“We look forward to working with DOH to help update and modernize their policies to reflect what is needed to ensure all students are under the best care possible while at school,” Salmanowitz said in an e-mail.


As it’s described in a complaint under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, the mother of a diabetic third grader at Davis Elementary in Southeast D.C. had two options on days when the school nurse wasn’t available. One was to come to school with her child to monitor her blood glucose level, administering insulin or other medication if necessary.

Or, she could keep her at home.

It gets worse, according to University Legal Services (ULS) and the American Diabetes Association, which filed the complaint with the department’s Office for Civil Rights on behalf of the family earlier this year. When the mother — whose name is redacted from the complaint — exchanged heated words with Davis principal Maisha Riddlesprigger over the situation last September, Riddlesprigger issued a “barring notice” that prohibited her from entering the building.

In other words, DCPS elected to ban from Davis the essential caregiver for her daughter in the nurse’s absence. The girl has since transferred to Nalle Elementary.

DCPS has not responded to a request for a comment on the complaint and the investigation.

The dispute exposes a peculiar — and ULS says illegal — omission in DCPS practices. The school system covers for nurses’ absences by training other school staff to deal with asthma, severe allergies and chronic illnesses. But in a student diabetic emergency, the accepted practice is to call 911 if no nurse is around. That can pose dangerous delays for a child who needs insulin or glucagon (a hormone that raises blood glucose) in a hurry.

“Every child with diabetes in a D.C. public school is at risk if the nurses are unavailable,” said ULS staff attorney Victoria Thomas. DCPS’s refusal to provide so-called “Trained Medication Employees” to administer diabetes care violates federal and District law, she said.

An Education Department spokesman said this week that since the original complaint was filed in February, the civil rights office has expanded its inquiry beyond DCPS to include the city’s 53 charter schools. If the office finds that DCPS or the charters did violate the rights of diabetic children, it could require the schools to sign a resolution agreement promising to comply with the law, or could even withhold federal funds.

Charter operators — also facing a Justice Department inquiry into allegations that their admissions practices steer away physically or emotionally disabled students — held a conference call last month to confer with lawyers on the Education Department matter.

Julie Camerata, executive director of the D.C. Special Education Cooperative, which advises charters on how to serve special needs students, said she doesn’t believe there is an issue with diabetic children.

“From our perspective there wasn’t any evidence that justified a blanket complaint about the charter community,” she said.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.


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