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Though technology has made it easier to treat school children with diabetes, disability rights lawyer Arlene Mayerson says policies regulating school care are still stuck in the past. Her Berkeley-based nonprofit firm sued over blood-sugar monitoring policies a decade ago, and more recently has gone after the state’s public schools over just who can administer in-school treatments. On Wednesday, Mayerson and her co-counsel at Reed Smith announced a settlement in the latter suit that’s meant to allow more people to administer treatments like insulin injections or sugary snacks. State policy previously said only school nurses could handle such treatments. Under the agreement, the state Department of Education will issue an advisory to school districts laying out an expanded set of alternatives to professionals, such as trained volunteers or other school employees. The settlement in K.C. v. O’Connell, 05-04077, filed in the Northern District, wraps up a hefty pro bono effort for Reed Smith. Oakland partner James Wood said that eight partners, 12 associates and eight summer associates contributed to the case. Had the firm been billing its hours, Wood said the attorneys fees would have been about $2.6 million. Mayerson, an attorney at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said the plaintiffs’ argument in K.C. was similar to one her organization pursued in 1996 when it sued a major child care provider for refusing to test blood sugar levels in diabetic children. Arguing that the blood test was a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mayerson said she eventually got the company, KinderCare Learning Centers Inc., to offer such monitoring in its facilities nationwide. In the more recent negotiations with lawyers for the state school system, Mayerson noted that federal disability laws guarantee children a “free, appropriate public education,” and that includes related health services such as insulin injections. “It’s a different phrase than reasonable accommodation [but] exactly the same concept,” Mayerson said, adding that the state hasn’t been able to deliver on that promise because there haven’t been enough school nurses to go around. California ranks 43rd in the nation in the ratio of school nurses to students, Wood said. “Everybody had a very good sense of what we were up against in terms of the constituencies that we’d potentially be fighting in terms of nurses association, the teachers association, things like that,” he said. “The pro bono committee was absolutely committed to see it through to the point where we’re at now.” Though this week’s settlement doesn’t commit the state to spend any money, Mayerson said it’s important for the schools to recognize that diabetes treatment is no longer a specialized medical service. “In the diabetes world, as the technology has advanced, kids are doing their own [treatments] at a younger age. It’s gotten much more like your everyday brush-your-teeth thing to do,” she said. Allan Keown, an attorney in the state Education Department’s legal office who worked on the settlement, said he could tell how much time the plaintiff lawyers poured into the case. “It was a voluntary mediation, but we worked extremely hard,” said Keown. Retired JAMS mediator Coleman Fannin also volunteered his time to help broker the settlement.

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