In a victory for children with disabilities, a federal court ruled today that the City of New York’s Department of Education (“DOE”) routinely denies students with diabetes access to field trips and bus transportation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”), and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”). Plaintiffs in this lawsuit are the American Diabetes Association® (“Association”), the nation’s leading diabetes organization, and three individual students with diabetes who attend New York City schools. Visit here to read the Opinion & Order.
Many students with diabetes require assistance with diabetes tasks to attend field trips, but the DOE relies on unreliable contract nurses to fulfill field trip requests. From September 2016 through March 2020, requests for trip nurse went unfilled 23.2% of the time, which the City admitted was likely an undercount. As a result, parents are frequently pressured to attend trips and provide care to their children themselves, or else the child may be left behind or the trip cancelled for the entire class. Despite a policy of providing such trip nurses, the Court ruled that this system is “clearly ineffective in practice” and unlawfully denies students with diabetes the same access to field trips that non-disabled students can enjoy.
With respect to bus transportation, all students with diabetes require a trained adult on the bus to be able to administer glucagon, a life-saving emergency medicine, similar to an epi-pen, that is used to treat severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Untreated severe hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness, seizure, a coma, and even death. The DOE had argued that calling 911 was sufficient to ensure the safety of these students, but the Court has disagreed, finding that the precious minutes lost while waiting for emergency services unnecessarily puts children’s lives at risk.
To remedy these violations of the law with respect to field trips, the federal Court has ordered the City of New York to determine how many trip nurses are necessary to cover the shortfall and hire a sufficient number of nurses to serve as a “float pool” to ensure that students can attend all trips. With respect to bus transportation, the Court has ordered Defendants to train all bus drivers and bus attendants in the administration of glucagon, to ensure that every bus has a trained adult capable of responding in an emergency, and may safely and consistently ride the bus.
This class action lawsuit challenging numerous deficiencies in providing appropriate care for students with diabetes was brought in November 2018 and Plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”), the Association, and Weir Greenblatt Piece, LLP. The parties have engaged in productive settlement negotiations for more than three years on many of the issues at stake in the lawsuit.
“Parents of New York City Public School students with diabetes will now have the comfort in knowing their children can safely ride the school bus and not be denied the opportunity to go on field trips with their classmates,” said Crystal Woodward, Director of the American Diabetes Association’s Safe at School® initiative.
“Our family couldn’t be more elated by this historic victory! It is a new dawn for not only our son, but for the care of all children with diabetes in New York City public schools,” said Yelena Ferrer, the parent of named Plaintiff M.F.
“It is a huge lift for individual families to fight for equal access to public school services, so we are deeply grateful for this ruling which will ensure that all public school children with diabetes will be able to attend school trips and use school buses, just the same as every other kid,” said Jaye Fox, the parent of named Plaintiff I.F.
“Today’s decision will have a critical impact for children with diabetes and their families,” said Torie Atkinson, Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “We look forward to continuing to work with the DOE towards a comprehensive settlement that further improves the educational experience for these students.”
“This decision is the latest step in this landmark litigation, which has already resulted in the nation’s largest school district agreeing to implement policies and procedures benefiting those children with diabetes, as well as the broader group of students with disabilities,” said Alan L. Yatvin, Partner at Weir Greenblatt Pierce, LLP and longtime Association volunteer.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages. Rather, the lawsuit seeks an overhaul of the DOE’s systemic policies and practices governing the delivery of diabetes-related care to ensure that all students with diabetes receive appropriate care and can participate in all school programs.
About Disability Rights Advocates
Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance the rights, inclusion, and equity of people with disabilities through high-impact litigation, education, and advocacy. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing.
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About the American Diabetes Association
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is the nation’s leading voluntary health organization fighting to bend the curve on the diabetes epidemic and help people living with diabetes thrive. For 81 years the ADA has driven discovery and research to treat, manage, and prevent diabetes while working relentlessly for a cure. Through advocacy, program development, and education we aim to improve the quality of life for the over 133 million Americans living with diabetes or prediabetes. Diabetes has brought us together. What we do next will make us Connected for Life.
To learn more or to get involved, visit us at diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383). Join the fight with us on Facebook American Diabetes Association, Spanish Facebook Asociación Americana de la Diabetes, Twitter @AmDiabetesAssn, and Instagram @AmDiabetesAssn.