Some schools struggle to keep up with student health needs

KANSAS CITY, MO. - A growing number of children have medical needs while they are at school. However, a 41 Action News investigation found care for those children in school may not always be keeping pace.

Our investigation uncovered little consistency about what you can expect to see in schools in terms of medical care.

That inconsistency in training sometimes leads to frustration among both parents and schools.

STRUGGLING WITH DIABETES

Very few first graders spend their days counting carbs. However, it's something 6-year-old Janice Patterson and her mom, Asia McClain, do every day.

"So food labels, scales, very complicated, a lot of weighing," McClain said, describing packing her daughter's meals.

A doctor diagnosed Janice with Type 1 diabetes in 2008. Her carb count must stay in balance in order to keep her blood sugar steady.

"You don't stay on top of the carb count she's either going to drop extremely low to the point of (a) coma or seizure or what we have been seeing lately. She is going to be extremely high thirsty," McClain explained.

Lately, McClain said she has felt anxiety about sending her daughter to school. Janice's insulin pump keeps track of her blood sugar levels, and its records show Janice's levels out of sync while she is in class at University Academy.

McClain told 41 Action News the school nurse alerted her to a drop in Janice's blood sugar by email.

Later that day, Janice passed out on the school bus ride home, just a few blocks from her house.

"I just flew down Brooklyn until I saw an ambulance and I said, ‘Please let my baby be in this ambulance or something.' When I got there she was awake and she was crying," McClain said about her race to find her daughter.

McClain also told the 41 Action News Investigators that in late October, Janice returned from school with her $7,000 insulin pump damaged.

McClain shared an email the nurse at University Academy sent her. The email states the battery on the insulin pump was dead so the nurse asked a maintenance worker to try and pry it open.

As McClain recounted her frustrations with the school to us, the school called to tell her Janice's blood sugar level was low and she would need to pick her daughter up from school.

McClain told us when she makes these trips to school she worries what she will see when she gets there.

McClain showed us records of emails to the school, meetings with school representatives and even a lawsuit she filed that was settled out of court. However, she told us nothing has improved and her frustration has grown.

"As a parent, it is frustrating. It is tiring because I don't know if she is going to come home from school," McClain said.

UNIVERSITY ACADEMY RESPONDS

Janice's school, University Academy, declined our invitation to comment specifically on Janice's case, citing student confidentiality laws.

However, Superintendent Tony Kline disagreed with allegations his school is not providing appropriate care for students with diabetes.

He sent us the following statement by email:

"University Academy is one of the highest performing public school systems in Jackson County and the state of Missouri, earning a 96.4 on the 2012-13 Annual Performance Report.  The Upper School received a Bronze Medal from U.S. World and News Report in both 2012 and 2013 as recognition for being one of the best public high schools in the country.   100% of University Academy graduates have been accepted to college since 2004.

University Academy is a school of choice.   Parents send their students to University Academy because of the outstanding academic programs and services that the school offers.   The school does everything it can to provide outstanding services for students, including medical services.  The University Academy school nurse sees forty students per day, on average.   In addition to the school nurse, University Academy is home to a Children's Mercy Clinic and a UMKC Dental Clinic, which both offer free medical and dental services to UA students.

Diabetes is a serious and complicated medical condition for children.  University Academy has a number of diabetic students that it assists on a daily basis.   The medical staff has been trained to assist these students and follow all appropriate procedures."

GAPS IN MEDICAL CARE AT SCHOOL

While there are minimum standards for education for your child's teacher, we found in Missouri there is no such standard for medical personnel in school.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told us schools are required to establish a medical services plan, have a doctor or nurse review that plan and have someone trained to implement it.

However, that means there is a wide range of qualifications and training. There is also no law requiring a nurse or health aid in each school.

The Kansas City Public School District has 37 registered nurses. That is one nurse in each of its schools.

The Hickman Mills School District employs nine RNs district-wide. A spokesperson told us that means some schools share a nurse.

The Blue Springs School District has six RNs who oversee a staff of health aides. There is one health aid in each school. In addition, there are also two RNs assigned to Ligett-Trail, the district's facility dedicated to children with disabilities and special needs.

Funding cuts have made it challenging for schools to afford medical staff. However, experts tell us sometimes the inconsistency in training can lead to problems.

EFFORTS TO MAKE SCHOOL "SAFE"

Linda Crider, executive director with the American Diabetes Association of Kansas City, told 41 Action News she routinely hears concerns from parents frustrated with their child's school.

"A lot of times, when those phone calls come in, it isn't necessarily that the school is doing anything wrong per se," Crider said. It's perhaps that the education isn't there and they aren't certain what they need to be following to ensure the safety of those children."

The American Diabetes Association is currently working to get "Safe at School" laws implemented in every state to make sure schools learn how to support students with diabetes.

Last legislative session, they worked with Lee's Summit Representative Jeff Grisamore to get a "Safe at School" law passed in Missouri.

The law requires schools have a nurse or another staff member trained in administering insulin and glucagon to help children learn to manage their diabetes while at school.

"We're wanting to give students a head start on getting a jump on managing their diabetes care as effectively as possible to improve not only their years in school, but their adult years as well," Grisamore told 41 Action News.

The law also allows for children who know how to manage their own diabetes to stay in class while checking their blood sugar. If a child's blood sugar drops low, it can be dangerous for them to walk to the nurse's office.

This summer, Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill in to law which went into effect in August.

Kansas already had laws that applied to children with diabetes on its books.

University Academy Superintendent Tony Kline told 41 Action News that the new Missouri law did not affect his school because they were already doing the things outlined in the legislation.

However, McClain insists her concern is with the quality of the help her daughter is receiving in managing her diabetes while at school.

She told us she's extremely happy with the education her daughter receives at University Academy. She explained she doesn't believe she should be forced to move due to her daughter's disability.

"We can do better," she said.

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