The New York City Department of Education routinely denies students with diabetes access to field trips and bus transportation, according to a federal court ruling.
U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon stated in her Jan. 27 ruling that the DOE “failed to provide a free, appropriate public education because they have not provided students with diabetes the services determined to be necessary to meet their needs.”
The ruling comes in response to a class-action lawsuit brought in 2018 by the American Diabetes Association and the families of three individual students with diabetes who attend New York City schools.
All students with diabetes require a trained adult on the school bus to be able to administer a life-saving emergency medicine called glucagon, which is used to treat severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Untreated severe hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness, seizure, a coma, or even death. From September 2016 to March 2020, requests for a trip nurse went unfilled 23.2% of the time. Parents were frequently pressured to attend trips and provide care to children themselves, or their child would be left behind or the trip would be cancelled for the entire class.
The DOE had argued that calling 911 would be sufficient to ensure student safety, but the court disagreed.
“To remedy these violations of the law with respect to field trips, the federal court has ordered the City of New York to determine how many trip nurses are necessary to cover the shortfall and hire a sufficient number of nurses to serve as a ‘float pool’ to ensure that students can attend all trips,” according to a news release.
The court ordered DOE to train all bus drivers and attendants to administer glucagon “to ensure that every bus has a trained adult capable of responding in an emergency.”
“Parents of New York City Public School students with diabetes will now have the comfort in knowing their children can safely ride the school bus and not be denied the opportunity to go on field trips with their classmates,” said Crystal Woodward, director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School initiative.
Yelena Ferrer, parent of one of the students involved in the lawsuit, said: “Our family couldn’t be more elated by this historic victory! It is a new dawn for not only our son, but for the care of all children with diabetes in New York City public schools.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Plaintiffs didn’t seek monetary damages. Instead, they want an overhaul of the DOE’s policies and practices governing the delivery of diabetes-related care.
“Today’s decision will have a critical impact for children with diabetes and their families,” said Torie Atkinson, staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “We look forward to continuing to work with the DOE towards a comprehensive settlement that further improves the educational experience for these students.”
The DOE has not yet responded to a request for comment from School Bus Fleet.