U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon is expected to make the settlement final after a fairness...

U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon is expected to make the settlement final after a fairness hearing in April 2023.

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A federal court judge has given preliminary approval to a settlement of a class-action suit that accused New York City of failing to ensure equitable access to educational activities and transportation for students with diabetes.

U.S. District Court Judge Nina Gershon ruled in January that the city’s Department of Education hadn’t done enough to meet the needs of diabetic students, preventing some from attending field trips or using school bus transportation.

The Settlement Details

Under the settlement agreement, New York City, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Office of School Health agreed to modify policies, practices, and procedures related to planning to determine and meet student needs, providing care to prevent exclusion and segregation, and training for staff and contractors who work with these students during the school day and in afterschool activities.

Reforms include:

  • Developing and adopting a template plan for students with diabetes, based on the American Diabetes Association’s model Section 504 Plan, to guide schools in working with students with diabetes.
  • Committing that accommodations necessary to meet student needs aren’t denied based on resources or available funding.
  • Establishing new timelines for how school staff will plan to meet the needs of students with diabetes.
  • Training for nurses, paraprofessionals, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers and attendants and other school staff on how to care for a student with diabetes.
  • Making changes to ensure appropriately trained staff are available so students with diabetes can attend field trips, eat with classmates, ride the bus, and participate in sports and afterschool activities with other students.

Judge Gershon scheduled a fairness hearing for April 19, 2023. Once that hearing is concluded, she could grant final approval.

Response to the Class-Action Settlement

The decision comes as good news to the plaintiffs in the class-action suit, which was originally brought on Nov. 2, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. It was filed by the American Diabetes Association in conjunction with three parents of students with diabetes (identified as M.F., M.R., and I.F.), who attend New York City public schools.

“These reforms represent a sea-change for students with diabetes and their families,” said Alan L. Yatvin, a partner at Weir Greenblatt Pierce LLP and a longtime American Diabetes Association volunteer. “We appreciate the time, effort, and commitment to change for the benefit of these children and families shown by the City of New York and DOE attorneys, leaders, staff, and medical professionals in reaching this point.”

Crystal Woodward, director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School initiative, hailed the “extraordinary” settlement, with its reforms providing something other school districts should emulate.

“The American Diabetes Association is hopeful this settlement with one of the largest school districts in the country will motivate other school districts to examine their diabetes policies and practices and also offer parents and advocates another tool to add to their diabetes advocacy toolkit,” Woodward said.

A diabetes diagnosis changes lives, but the resolution of this case should prove beneficial, according to Yelena Ferrer, parent of the student identified as M.F.

“With this settlement, the transition at school will be easier, less stressful, and more fair for thousands of families like mine,” Ferrer said. “I feel privileged to have been part of this amazing effort to vindicate my son’s civil rights and ensure other kids with diabetes get the support they need.”

Jennifer Fox, parent of student identified as I.F., agreed: “By establishing system-wide obligations and standards of care, this settlement will relieve parents who are short on time, resources, or privilege, of the substantial, often prohibitive, burden of having to individually advocate for their child.”

The settlement is expected to improve education opportunities for nearly 2,000 students in New York City, said Torie Atkinson, senior staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.

“DRA is honored to represent these trailblazing clients to secure a remarkable settlement that provides a model for other school districts to meet the needs of students with disabilities, particularly students with diabetes,” Atkinson said.