Safe at School Team Keeps Child Close to Home
How parent, educators, and the ADA found a winning formula
Ryenne Ayers with her Safe at School team, including her parents, principal, and volunteers.
Ryenne Ayers may be just a first grader, but for most of her life, Dalton Elementary has been her home away from home in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The neighborhood school that her older brother and sister attended is only a few blocks from her family's house, and she knows just about everyone there. That's why it was frightening—even heartbreaking—for Ryenne when, upon being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, she was told she'd have to leave the school.
Ryenne, 6, was diagnosed in early 2011, while she was in kindergarten. Her parents, Stephen and Diane Ayers, went right to her school to discuss the care she'd need. That's when they were told that the Coeur d'Alene School District didn't have a full-time nurse on staff at every school. Ryenne would need to transfer to a "regional medical school," where children with diabetes, asthma, and other diseases that the district deemed "life-threatening" studied with a nurse on hand at all times.
|A Legal Battle Continues This Year|
The California Supreme Court agreed to hear the ADA's appeal of a case that would protect students with diabetes by allowing school staff members to volunteer to be trained to administer insulin. Numerous briefs filed in support of the ADA include one from the federal Departments of Justice and Education.
That news didn't sit well with the Ayers family. Both Stephen and Diane Ayers are registered nurses. They knew that with training, adults in the school would be able to help Ryenne with her diabetes care. However, Idaho law says that schools may only authorize nurses to give children injections at school (although parents may designate others to do so). Yet three federal laws require schools to provide services to students with disabilities, including diabetes, to protect them against discrimination in school: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The Dalton Elementary staff, too, wanted Ryenne to stay at the school, but because the district had no written diabetes policy, her enrollment was in question. "For Ryenne, I think being at Dalton was very emotionally important," Diane Ayers says. "One of the things she brought up early on was that [changing schools] was scary for her. She didn't know where the doors led to [in other schools]. It helped me decide that it was worth fighting for her."
For the remainder of the 2010–2011 school year, Diane Ayers visited Ryenne's kindergarten class nearly every day to check her daughter's blood glucose (Ryenne also learned how to check it herself) and administer insulin. That wasn't going to work in first grade, though. So the Ayers family contacted the Office of Civil Rights (part of the U.S. Department of Education) and the American Diabetes Association and told Ryenne's story.
Safe at School Legal Successes
In response to a complaint filed by Disability Rights Florida with the assistance of the ADA, a state hearing officer ruled that Pinellas County School District in Florida may not require students with diabetes to transfer to a different school just because their current school lacks a nurse.
Legal advocacy staff members at the Association put the Ayers family in touch with Mike Greene, a Portland, Ore., attorney who is the founding member of the Association's Legal Advocacy Subcommittee, and Katie Hathaway, director of legal advocacy. Greene scheduled a meeting of Ryenne's parents, the school district's lawyer and head nurse, Ryenne's teacher and principal, and an ADA representative. By the end of the meeting, they reached a compromise. Ryenne could stay at Dalton Elementary. Her parents would find volunteers willing to be trained to help Ryenne, who had started using an insulin pump, with her diabetes care. The training would include pump use and administering glucagon to treat hypoglycemia in an emergency.
"I wasn't leaving until we had a deal inked," Greene says of the summer meeting. "Everyone who was in the decision making was in the room. We cut a deal because the school district was so receptive to trying to accommodate this girl at this school. They deserve a lot of credit."
By the beginning of this school year, two teachers and a parent volunteer had trained to help with diabetes care, and Ryenne was back in class full-time—without her mom. She's happier than ever, Diane Ayers says.
Ryenne's parents are quick to note that the education provided by the ADA, as well as the willingness of their daughter's teacher and principal to learn and work together with the family, helped achieve the best outcome for Ryenne. Hathaway says similar situations occur across the country. Education and outreach through the Association's Safe at School campaign can ensure that children get fair treatment and the care they need in the classroom and during school activities. "This is a success story," Hathaway says. "We found a creative solution [for Ryenne]. It does show how the ADA can help."