DOJ intervenes in student diabetes case

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News from Kentucky

The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief June 7 on behalf of a boy with diabetes who filed a discrimination lawsuit against his school in Kentucky after it refused to train non-medical personnel to assist him with his insulin pump.

In 2010, the Scott County Board of Education voted to transfer the student, identified as R.K. in court documents, away from his neighborhood school to one of the district’s two schools with a full-time nurse on staff, alleging that the move was necessary for liability reasons under state law.

In its amicus brief, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, the Justice Department countered that the transfer violated the student’s rights under federal law to a “free appropriate public education,” as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky ruled in favor of the school.

“The district court ignored the Department of Education’s Section 504 regulations and seemed to assume that, as long as R.K. receives an adequate education, the location of his placement is irrelevant to whether the school district has complied with its Section 504 obligations,” the Justice Department stated. “The court thus did not consider whether the school district had engaged in the required individualized assessment to determine whether R.K.’s needs could have been met in the school that he would have attended but for his disability.

In December 2009, the student’s parents informed the school district that their son uses an insulin pump, an electronic device used in place of a needle and syringe. The parent’s provided a physician-approved Diabetes Medical Management Plan, which stated that the student needed “some assistance” monitoring the pump and counting the amount of carbohydrates he was consuming so he could implement the correct information into the pump.

These forms of assistance had previously been provided to the student by non-medical personnel at a summer camp and in an after-school program.

The school district’s policy permits insulin pumps only if the student is “fully self-sufficient” in administering the device. The Justice Department counters that under Section 504, the assistance the student requires qualifies as “related aids and services” that the school must provide.

The lawsuit comes one week after the Justice Department announced a settlement with a private school in Louisiana that had denied admission to a six-year-old girl with Type 1 diabetes after her parent’s requested that the school supervise her in her daily diabetes care practices. Under the settlement, the school agreed to make “reasonable modifications” to ensure equal opportunity for students with diabetes.