D.C. health officials said they plan to train school staff to administer insulin shots after a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education charged that a third-grader with diabetes was asked to stay home -- then labeled truant -- whenever the school nurse was on vacation or out sick.
The only other option given to the girl at Davis Elementary was to have her mother stay with her in the classroom, until the mother was banned from the school for getting into a verbal fight with Principal Maisha Riddlesprigger, according to the complaint. DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her staff came under intense fire from the D.C. Council's Health Committee when they presented a different version of events in which they said the nurse was rarely absent and Riddlesprigger felt physically threatened.
"If there is ever a wonder why there is flight from DCPS, this is illustrative of that decision," said at-large Councilman David Catania, who became emotional during a roundtable with Henderson, shouting "Bull!" and holding his head in his hands. Catania has a close friend with Type I diabetes, a spokesman said.
Victoria Thomas, a staff attorney with the nonprofit University Legal Services, which filed the claim, said, "We've heard this is a problem for multiple families in DC Public Schools."
According to the complaint, the third-grader can and has experienced sudden, acute hypoglycemia, with can be fatal if not promptly treated with an injection of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar. She cannot eat lunch without an insulin injection, nor self-administer it because of her age.
But the District refused to train any school staffers to give the injections -- which are designed to be given by lay people -- other than the nurse, and the girl's mother was told to keep her home when the nurse was absent.
Attorneys say the girl was labeled truant because her mother kept her home on those days, while DCPS officials claim she missed school for other reasons. At some point, both parties agree, her mother was referred to Child and Family Services.
Nathaniel Beers, DCPS' special education chief, said he had been told verbally by legal counsel for the Health Department and the school system that he could not train employees other than nurses to administer diabetes medications.
This was a misunderstanding, and the Health Department is planning to train three or more staffers in affected schools by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, said Samia Altaf, the senior deputy director of community health administration for the agency.
"In these large, complex programs, it is likely there is miscommunication or miscoordination, but that is part of the work we do," Altaf told The Washington Examiner.