The American Diabetes Association has joined a California family in suing the U.S. Army, challenging a nationwide policy they say discriminates against type 1 kids by preventing them from participating in summer camps, daycare programs, and before- and after-school services as a result of their T1D needs.
We wouldn't have believed such a thing could happen in 2016, with all the supposed sensitivity towards people with special needs, but it's true.
A 19-page federal lawsuit was filed in mid July against the Army's Child Youth & School Services (CYSS), which offers childcare programs across the country for Army families and those affiliated with related employers, such as in this case.
The ADA is specifically involved as a plaintiff in this lawsuit because of all the D-families across the country it represents who are touched by this policy, and those who may be affected in the future as a result.
As many U.S. families are turning attention to the beginning of a new school year, the fact that diabetes care within government-funded educational programs can be outright refused should concern us all!
Interestingly, the very same federal law that governs safe at school plans for children with health conditions, Section 504, is at play here in this Army litigation.
No Diabetes Help Allowed
The background here is that one of the D-parents in this case works for the California State University at Monterey Bay, which has an agreement with the local Presidio of Monterey Army base allowing for their children to attend CYSS programs.
The D-mom, identified as Hope W. in order to protect the family's identity, says her 6-year-old daughter M. W. was enrolled during the 2014-15 academic year in a CYSS-operated after-school program located across the street from her elementary school. The family planned to send her back there the following year.
But during summer vacation in June 2015, a T1D diagnosis changed everything.
When Hope contacted the CYSS program within a week of her daughter's diagnosis to work with them toward making sure her daughter would be safe in that after-school program for the next year, she learned that an Army policy prevents any personnel from providing diabetes care -- including insulin and glucagon injections, insulin pump operations, and even assistance with carb counting. The policy doesn't stop staff from monitoring blood sugars, but the lawsuit says they've declined to do even that for this little girl and apparently have stated they wouldn't even give her orange juice in the event of a low blood sugar episode!
As a result, M.W. hasn't been able to attend the after-school program. The family hasn't been able to find a suitable alternative program, and so M.W. stays at home with her dad after school school since he works from home.
The policy in question was written in 2008 to include any children who happen to be enrolled in these programs -- whether their families are military-enlisted or not.
Not surprisingly, this butts up against the law. The policy goes directly against Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects kids with diabetes and other disabilities in schools and any programs operated by or receiving federal funding. Many private and public childcare programs have specifically updated their policies to ensure that children with diabetes can access these kinds of services, but the Army's CYSS has not -- even though other military programs have done so.
The Army Won't Budge
The ADA says it's been trying to get this Army policy changed for six years now (!) without success, and the lack of motivation to update this policy shows that the Army does not have the best interest of D-children -- and their families, many of whom who are serving our country -- at heart.
Hope, the D-Mom in question here, actually tried to work with the Army and CYSS program officials for months, hoping to get them to see the family's side of this, even providing individualized training and a worksheet to help officials understand diabetes. But nothing worked, and in late August 2015 the CYSS staff wrote to M.W.'s mom that, "ANY United States Army Garrison that allows CYSS staff to administer glucagon is in direct violation" of Army regulations.
Amazingly, the lawsuit states the Army's basis for upholding this policy relies on two outdated settlement agreements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, from 1996 and 1997, between the Dept. of Justice and two private childcare centers (KinderCare Learning Centers and La Petite Academy). In the 20 years since, a plethora of other settlements have been reached based on more current legal policies protecting kids with diabetes, and the DOJ has consistently required camps and childcare centers to provide the same type of support that M.W. is now seeking from the Army program. Yet, the Army hasn't budged on this particular program, and has yet to update its 2008 policy.
"Viewed in its entirety, Defendants' policy is terrifying for families of children with type 1 diabetes," the lawsuit says. "CYSS personnel are not able to deliver potentially lifesaving medication to a child experiencing severe hypoglycemia, nor can they assist the child through routine carbohydrate counting and insulin administration necessary to prevent high blood sugar."
No kidding, this is incredibly scary!!
Calling for a Rehaul
With this lawsuit, the California family is calling for a federal magistrate judge to throw out this Army policy and demand a new policy allowing CYSS staff to provide diabetes care that includes carb counting, monitoring BGs, and administering insulin and glucagon as needed. Because after all, refusing to offer this support boils down to discrimination against children with diabetes and other health conditions -- i.e., if they need special help, they're not wanted.
Attorneys representing the ADA and D-family are with the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates group. As of early August, no attorneys are listed on the federal court docket for the Army and other defendants; they have 60 days to respond to legal complaint, and from there the judge will decide how to move forward.
In case you want to look it up: this lawsuit is in the Northern District of California and the case name is: M.W, et. al v. United States Department of the Army, et al., No. 5:16-cv-04051-NC. Also, all of the legal documents and related updates are being added to the ADA's Army Litigation webpage.
ADA CEO Kevin Hagan said in a press release about this case, "When barriers like this Army CYSS policy prevent children and individuals with diabetes from receiving the services they need and equal access to programs that should be accessible to everyone, the Association stands up on their behalf to fight for fair treatment under the law. We are filing this lawsuit on behalf of all people with diabetes affected by this policy – both those seeking to attend Army CYSS programs now, and those who will be eligible for this benefit in the future."
Also check out our friend D-Mom Stacey Simms' recent Podcast in which she interviewed ADA litigation chief Sarah Fech-Baughman about this case and the broader issue of kids being Safe At School in other programs.
While some may feel iffy about whether diabetes should be dubbed a "disability" in everyday lingo, the fact remains that federal laws are put in place to ensure legal protections for good reason -- and this Army case illustrates why that's so very important.
Hopefully, this case can light a fire under the Army to wake up to the needs of its member families and the imperative to provide health assistance where needed.
Come on Army, how do you expect your members to "Be All They Can Be" if you're not embracing all that they and their families already are?