Beyond the Books: Parents plan to sue district in battle over accommodating diabetic son

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The Watkins family decided to sue the Jordan School District after years of attempting to work out accommodations for their diabetic son. They allege the school was reluctant to implement a medical care plan, relied on staff who could not be counted on for proper medical care and ultimately, told them to leave their school. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) — On Thursday, Sept. 6, Caly Watkins did what she usually does: gets her children ready for school and drops them off for the day. However, the day was different — she was about to go to battle with the administration of Butterfield Canyon Elementary School.

“Hello, nice to meet you,” Watkins said to administrators, who had previously pulled her into a room to tell her that unless she signed a document giving the school the right to contact her son’s doctors and pharmacy, Watkins would have to leave the school, and take her son with her.

Watkins had refused to sign the form, claiming the school had attempted to change her doctor’s orders without her permission. The meeting started cordially enough, but ended with tension as Watkins told administrators, “You have legally crossed the line. I’ll have my lawyer contact you."

It was the latest battle in a three-year war the Watkins say they have been waging with the Jordan School District — specifically, the top officials at Butterfield Canyon.

Watkins said she has been trying to get a 504 plan in place for months for her son, who is 7 and has diabetes. A 504 would put resources in place for a nurse to be at her son’s side and help him administer his insulin shots.

The Watkins say the school resisted the costly option for months, and the school offered what she and her husband Wade thought were "absurd" options.

For one, Watkins says the school presented the janitor as someone who could administer insulin shots.

“At the beginning of kindergarten, they said adequate service for (my son) could be training a janitor, a head custodian,” Watkins said.

She said she was instantly shocked at the presented solution, and thought about what the janitor himself might have thought of the idea, “'Let me put my mop down and I’ll draw up pure insulin, hopefully wash my hands prior to injecting the child,'” she said.

The Watkins then decided to take matters into their own hands and send their son to school with insulin to inject himself.

But more inflexible rules imposed by the district restricting unmarked syringes made her son feel like a criminal, she said.

“They searched him, pulled him out of class — they did not like that he had pre-filled syringes in his bag,” Watkins said.

After nearly a year, Watkins says the school finally implemented a 504 plan, but again, she says, because of more red tape, her son was almost given overdoses of insulin, since the school put rules in place that included not bringing pre-filled syringes to school.

That meant the nurse had to draw the shots herself, and Watkins says, thanks to cell phone pictures taken by the nurse, she caught at least 10 occasions when the nurse might have accidentally overdosed her son.

“I instructed the nurse to draw up one unit, she sent me a picture with 10 units,” Watkins said.

Had her son been given the shot, it could have been fatal.

“I don’t even think he could recover from that,” she said.

Exasperated, the Watkins reached out to their representative on the Jordan School Board, Darrell Robinson. The Watkins say Robinson suggested they go find another school.

"The options he presented to us was options to go to other schools, the options to look at charter schools,” said Caly's husband, Wade.

2News reached out to the school district, which refused to put us in contact with Robinson, who also did not answer questions when Beyond The Books reporter Chris Jones went to speak to him at a study session of the Jordan School Board members.

The district issued this statement:

Jordan School District follows a well-established procedure to provide appropriate support for medically fragile students to ensure they have a safe and successful experience at school. We consult with medical professionals on this procedure and take the responsibility of meeting the medical needs of students in our schools very seriously. This is accomplished with a Health Care Plan signed by parents and school officials, which allows us to provide services in a safe manner for students, again with support of health care professionals.

Beyond The Books found that the Watkins are not alone. We spoke with multiple parents who say the district regularly thwarts their requests for 504 plans and often violates them even when they are put in place.

Christy Gardiner, who now lives in Wyoming, said she missed hour after hour of work because the school her diabetic son attended, Bluffdale Elementary, regularly did not follow the terms of the 504 plan. She says once, her son’s blood sugar remained high for more than four hours, and the school only gave her son water.

“It slowly affects the organs in their body, if it goes high for too long it can cause brain damage,” Gardiner said.

Schools regularly violate the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and put inflexible rules in place, said Nate Crippes with the Disability Law Center.

But, Crippes says the foundation of The ADA is one of flexibility.

“What it also says is that if a person needs you (the school district) to modify policy or accommodate you in some way because of your disability, you really have to do it,” Crippes explained.

As for the Watkins, they plan on suing the district, and say they will likely just let their son administer his own insulin. They know it’s risky, but they trust their Second grader, and said since the school won’t help, they have no choice.

“That’s’ a life-sustaining medication for his body," Watkins said. "Without that, he doesn’t live."