Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

State Statutes to Protect Children with Diabetes: Noble Intentions but the Wrong Approach

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

State Statutes to Protect Children with Diabetes: Noble Intentions but the Wrong Approach

Article excerpt

In his article, Children with Diabetes: Are State Statutes Needed to Protect Students' Rights?, Christopher Goddard advanced the notion that federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability are not adequate protection for diabetic elementary and secondary students.1 He argued that supplemental state laws could play a pivotal role to proactively protect the rights of students with diabetes.2

Goddard's article provides a medical overview of diabetes that creates a heightened awareness about the complicated nature of the impairment. Diabetes is a physical impairment that affects the body's capacity to create insulin and, as a consequence, affects how the body metabolizes glucose. The inability to properly metabolize glucose may result in conditions known as hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia. Left unchecked, hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia may result in blindness and impaired circulation that could necessitate the amputation of one or more limbs. Although death from diabetes is not as likely among children and adolescents as from other causes, death from diabetes could occur as well.3

With approximately 200,000 children with Type 1 Diabetes in our schools, it is paramount that school officials understand the nature of diabetes and how the impairment manifests itself in each individual student.4 Goddard makes a compelling case for ensuring proper diabetes management accommodations are in place for school children with diabetes and for ensuring school personnel are trained in routine and extraordinary diabetes management strategies. We agree that it is essential for each child's medical or health care provider to collaborate with school personnel in order to effectively plan for and implement individualized diabetes management strategies to safeguard the health and well-being of our students.

Nonetheless, Goddard raised three issues with which we take exception. First, his article paints a picture of school officials as uncaring and non-responsive to the needs of diabetic students. Regrettably, while implying that school officials are failing in their duty to provide proper diabetes management, he cited only a handful of cases.5

Second, we disagree with the proposition that state laws are necessary either to protect the legal rights of students with diabetes or to achieve proper diabetes management for students in the schools. Advocacy groups for students with asthma, seizure disorders, and mental health conditions, could also make equally compelling arguments for similar state laws. Notwithstanding the need for appropriate diabetes management protocols in the schools, Goddard simply does not make an adequate argument that preventive state statutes are necessary to protect these student's rights when there are other, more appropriate and specific avenues for relief. With his narrow advocacy for state diabetes statutes, Goddard fails to address other strategies that are perhaps more effective in promoting diabetes awareness.

Finally, Goddard implied that all students with diabetes are eligible students under § 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (§ 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He makes this unwarranted reliance on § 504 and the ADA because many students with diabetes do not qualify under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).6 This default rationale is not viable. Simply having an impairment does not automatically equate to eligibility under § 504 and the ADA; two other elements are essential-major life activity and substantial limitation. The following successive sections elaborate on our three points of disagreement.

I. SCHOOL SITUATION

Goddard premises the suggestion that there is wholesale discrimination necessitating state-by-state diabetes specific statutes almost entirely on three settlements brokered by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR).7 While he acknowledged that there is little case law on the subject,8 three OCR settlements are obviously too slender a reed to support a general characterization of school officials as uniformed, rigid and not empathetic in response to the needs of elementary and secondary students with diabetes. …

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