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California Supreme Court: School employees can give students insulin shots

A bouquet of insulin syringes in the pharmacological refrigerator at the UMMA clinic in South Los Angeles.
A bouquet of insulin syringes in the pharmacological refrigerator at the UMMA clinic in South Los Angeles.
Christopher Okula/KPCC

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California’s Supreme Court ruled on Monday on an issue that affects as many as 14,000 students in the state: who should administer insulin to diabetic kids at school.

The state's highest court ruled that a nurse isn’t the only school employee that should be allowed to give kids those shots - or other prescription medicine.

Lisa Hansen, the mother of a diabetic second grader at Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon neighborhood is thrilled about the decision. She's breathing a sigh of relief because she's had to race to her son’s school when a nurse wasn’t around to monitor his insulin pump.

"Kids were being held hostage, that would have to wait to get an insulin dose or if a nurse was sick and they didn’t have a backup plan in place, a lot of times the schools would just send kids home,” she said.

Hansen has trained babysitters, relatives, and others to monitor his blood sugar to make sure it’s not dangerously high or low. That’s common practice among insulin users – they say you don’t have to be a nurse to figure it out.  She's happy schools will now be training other staff to administer the shots.

The California Nurses’ Association had argued that schools should be treated like hospitals, where only nurses are allowed to give insulin shots and prescription medicine. The state supreme court disagreed.

“I think it’s a great disservice to our children and I think we’ll live to regret this decision,” said Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses’ Association. The ruling, she added, strips the value of skilled nursing from the school setting.

Tom Torlakson, head of California’s Department of Education, did not comment on the ruling directly. He issued a statement saying he’ll push to reverse years of budget cuts to school nurse programs – but he didn’t say how the state would pay for it.