California Supreme Court Decision: Parents v. School Nurses

Written by Marjorie C Picard

In a victory for parents and children with diabetes, the California Supreme Court unanimously decided to allow nonmedical staff to administer insulin to children when the school nurse is not there.  This August 12, 2013 ruling ended a six-year court battle between diabetes advocates and the state school nurses.  It also included a brief from the Obama administration on behalf of the parents.

The nurses were concerned about the safety of insulin-dependent students being treated by non-certified school staff.  As a retired school nurse, I can see their concern, but I also have dealt with many parents who must break away from jobs to come to the school for various emergencies or sudden illness.  I worked in an urban setting where many parents worked low, hourly wages, and lost pay when off the job.  Some had to travel long distances to get to the school.  To me, the California decision makes common sense.  However, a few concerns pop up:

The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP, 2010) provides a publication, "Helping the Student with Diabetes Succeed: A Guide for School Personnel", which details what level of training should be given to all staff, the classroom teacher, and other teachers who will be working with the child.

With the California ratio of students-to-school nurses at 2200 to one, and an estimate of 14,000 children with diabetes in the public schools, only one court decision could have been made.  It would be ideal if every school had a nurse, but this will not happen in the present economy, and probably never will  Only 5% of schools in the state have a full-time nurse, and 26% have no nurse.  It is a practical impossibility to not have staff trained.