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bullet  Gasping for Breath ...Still

The Two Lead Stories this week (the “asthma stories”) were by far the most-suggested stories by readers recently. I think every one of them just suggested one or the other, and they probably didn’t know about the other. The two stories, which happened about a week apart, and about 165 miles apart, are pretty amazing together. Let’s start with the two stories, in True’s 24 January 2016 issue:

Do the Right Thing

When a student at Gateway Middle School in Killeen, Texas, had an asthma attack during class, the teacher took quick action, per district protocol: she e-mailed the school nurse and waited for an e-mail reply. Several minutes later, the girl collapsed onto the floor. Fellow student Anthony Ruelas, 15, decided to take action: he “proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying ‘we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse’,” the teacher wrote. “He walks out of the class and carries the other student to the nurse.” Various sources say he saved the girl’s life, but the school suspended Ruelas for two days because he “walked out of class.” The next day, the school called Ruelas’s mother demanding to know why he was absent. She had to remind them he had been suspended. Superintendent John Craft issued a statement noting that “Students rendering assistance and their efforts are to be applauded.” (RC/Killeen Daily Herald, KCEN Temple) ...The students can’t hear that applause from home, sir.

Trying to Breathe in Texas II

Indiyah Rush, 12, a 7th-grade honor roll student at Schrade Middle School in Garland, Texas, is an asthmatic and dependent on her inhaler. When fellow honor roll student — and fellow asthmatic — Alexis Kyle, 13, had an asthma attack during gym class, but didn’t have her inhaler with her, Rush loaned the girl hers. “They punished her twice,” complained Monique Rush, Indiyah’s mother. “They suspended her on top of sending her to alternative school. I mean how could you do a kid like that?” The school says according to their zero tolerance drug policy, a 30-day stint at a reform school is the “initial” and “automatic” punishment for “sharing” a “controlled substance” — and asthma inhalers qualify for that classification, along with marijuana, according to district policy. And sure enough, “sharing” goes both ways: Kyle was also suspended and ordered to the alternative school for the outrage of wanting to breathe. “The little girl saved her life,” says Kyle’s step-father, Michael Green. “And the reason we say that [is] because we have been [in] situations where she has been to ICU, so we know how bad her asthma is.” After an outcry, the school relented and let the girls return to school after a week of suspension — but the district says they still stand by their zero tolerance policy. (RC/KDFW Dallas) ...Strict adherence to the rules: still more important than students’ lives.

But Let’s Not Just Point at Texas: it happens all over. And I’m certainly not being overly dramatic by saying this can be a life or death situation. Ryan Gibbons, 12, of Straffordville, Ont., Canada (you know ZT is international, right?) died October 9, 2012, because his school wouldn’t let him carry his inhaler with him. They literally took it away from him.

Ryan’s mother campaigned for a new law to force schools to allow kids to have their inhalers with them. It took three years, but Ontario passed it — and apparently Ontario is still the only Canadian province to have such a law. It’s called “Ryan’s Law”. Yet “There are still school boards all across this country and schools within those boards that don't allow children to carry their puffers,” said Rob Oliphant, president of the Asthma Society of Canada. “It’s usually part of a blanket understanding of medications, so they say medications are unsafe, they have that idea in their head, so they lock them up in the principal’s office.”

Bryant Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pa., did not allow Laporshia Massey, 12, to have her inhaler. Worse, students there are not allowed to take medications without a school nurse present. You guessed it: there was no nurse on duty on September 25, 2013, when Massey had an asthma attack. Rather than call 911, the school took the girl home, where she died. Her parents sued the school.

Demand Common SenseThose are just two cases I found in a quick search: there are more. “Certainly as a doctor we think about controlled substances like narcotics or illegal or illicit drugs like marijuana and they are nowhere near the same category,” says Dr. Gary Weinstein, director of the Asthma Management Program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, commenting on the Garland case. Yet schools freak out because inhalers are “drugs” and we must “Just Say No!” to “drugs” because that’s the zero tolerance way. Meth and cocaine are not the same as albuterol inhalers, which “have little potential for abuse,” Weinstein says. Yet after all these years — and death after death — schools can’t seem to grasp the difference. A drug is a drug is a drug.

The nurse at Volusia County (Fla.) School watched as Michael Rudi, 17, collapsed on the floor from an asthma attack. He had made it to the office in time, but the nurse wouldn’t give him his inhaler because she didn’t find a medical release form signed by a parent. His inhaler was there, in its original packaging with Michael’s name on it (and his doctor’s!), yet without that form they wouldn’t give it to him. They called his mother, but she was not allowed to give permission over the phone; she had to come to the school and sign the form. “As soon as we opened up the door, we saw my son collapsing against the wall on the floor of the nurse’s office while she was standing in the window of the locked door looking down at my son, who was in full-blown asthma attack,” Sue Rudi says. She barely got there in time: her son lived. “I believe that when I closed my eyes I wasn't going to wake up,” the boy said later. He was sure he was going to die — while a medical “professional” passively watched.

Cheryl Selesky, the district’s Director of Student Health Services, insisted it was Michael’s parents’ fault for not being sure a new signed form was on file — none of the forms they had signed for the previous school years were good enough. Following her rule was more important than Michael’s life. The school couldn’t even be bothered to call 911. And that’s with a trained nurse present!

Want Your Inhaler? BEG for it!Kids need to be part of their own healthcare: they know when they need life-saving medications, and teachers and school administrators have no business butting in and taking those medications away. Having them locked up in the school office is no substitute even when there is a nurse on duty. Kids with medical problems have enough problems with bullies among their fellow students. To institutionalize the bullying by making kids gasping for breath walk or be carried to the office to beg for life-saving medications, because they’re “controlled substances” not differentiated from marijuana, is absurd, and not in the best interest of the kids, society, or the taxpayers who have to foot the bill when the schools are sued over their gross negligence, allowing — even forcing — the deaths of the pupils in their care. It’s downright sadistic.

U.S. News and World Report magazine reported in 2012 that “all 50 states have laws that allow children with asthma to carry inhalers at school and 48 states have laws that let youngsters carry epinephrine pens for serious allergies,” yet “experts say that some kids are still being denied access to these lifesaving medications during the school day.” Obviously, in 2016 that’s still the case.

When school officials get in the middle of the care between a child and their doctors, those school officials need to be personally liable for their decisions: no hiding behind “policy” or “zero tolerance” whether there’s a law or not. They need to be sued and lose their jobs and homes, and local authorities should consider criminal charges — and prosecutors should press for prison time. Hell, that happens all the time when people treat animals that way, so why don’t we press charges when school administrators treat children this way? This crap needs to stop, and right now: there is no reason for these children to suffer, even die, when help is so easily available.

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56 Comments on This Entry

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Posted by Carl, Utah on January 25, 2016:

It's time to start suing school districts with punitive damages. I generally hate lawsuits, but it seems that the school districts don't understand any other language. Until there is something tangible that makes failure to think a problem for the school district, and not just for the student, things will never change.

I'm glad my children are done with public schools. I'm concerned for my grandchildren who are just starting.

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I also abhor many lawsuits, but this is a very justifiable situation. Yet the taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones on the hook: the school officials should bear personal responsibility for such decisions. -rc

Posted by Jay, Kansas on January 25, 2016:

Lest we forget, these administrators oversee common core... not common sense.

I just asked my daughter, "If a friend needed help to live, but to help them you needed to break the rules and would get into trouble, what would you do?" Without giving it much though, she said, "Help my friend." I pushed, "But what if that meant you would be kicked out of school?" Her reply, "Sometimes it's worth getting into trouble if it means you are doing a good thing."

She is six and has a better grasp on judgment and selfless service than some leaders in the school system that we entrust to educate them. I am fortunate to live in a place that has an outstanding local school system (although it's underfunded, see state listed above) but I feel bad for those who are not so lucky.

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You must be very proud of your thoughtful daughter. -rc

Posted by Steve, California on January 25, 2016:

And these people are teaching our children. Whatever happened to common sense, let alone compassion? These are criminal acts, plain and simple, and they should be treated as such. A few convictions might just spell the end of the "zero tolerance" idiocy!

Posted by Steve, UK on January 25, 2016:

How is this still happening? A kid in England died in 2013 or so because the teacher panicked when they had an asthma attack and told them to wait outside the class (didn't call the nurse, didn't fetch an inhaler, carried on teaching.) Why aren't school staff losing their jobs for letting kids die on their watch? How the hell is 'send an email to a named person' the appropriate response to an asthma attack?

Posted by Shana, Oregon on January 25, 2016:

You've been beating the drum about this ZT insanity for a very long time. ... I am sorry that you still have new material because nobody learns a damn thing from these incidents.

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That's why we need to escalate things: not just lawsuits, but criminal charges. -rc

Posted by Darryl - Newfoundland on January 25, 2016:

The sad thing is that the US has become too litigious about everything. Say one of the kids above took too much (I know it doesn't do anything to take more, my mom was a very bad asthmatic). So say that the child was injured cause of it. Now these parents will have the school in court.

It is a double edged sword. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. The thing is, the school should err on the side of caution and provide the medication and be damned about the consequences (if any). I would rather that they saved a life doing something than let someone die doing nothing.

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Your scenario -- too much + actual harm + lawsuit + winning -- is implausible. -rc

Posted by bern Michigan on January 25, 2016:

The whole ZT business is a conspiracy between school administrations and teacher's unions to eliminate responsibility and avoid lawsuits by invoking the "policy" word. And can be sold by the lie that it somehow prevents the bad effects of recreational drugs. The only way to get rid of this disastrous business is to eliminate the motivation behind it by filing lawsuits against everybody involved with an incident. Maybe there should be a nationwide organization to assist folks with these lawsuits. Unfortunately, Criminal charges will only come when the legislatures start thinking.

And, as with the folks posting above, I am generally not a friend of the lawsuit bar.

Posted by Steve, Hillsboro, OR on January 25, 2016:

In addition to penalizing the teachers and school staff, the school and the school district should have their funding cut by the amount of the lawsuit. Hit them in the pocketbook and maybe they'll listen!

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The problem with that: it just screws over kids who did nothing wrong. -rc

Posted by Bronwyn, Norfolk, VA on January 25, 2016:

It's worse for private schools. My mom teaches at a very small private school--we refer to it as a "three-room one-room schoolhouse" -- that goes from 3-year-old preschool (two-and-a-half if they're potty-trained -- the school isn't licensed for diapers) to sixth grade. Not only do medications have to be labeled, brought in brand-new and unused, have a doctor's note if they're anything that requires a prescription, have a parent's authorization form saying they can be given to the child, and be kept locked out of reach of any of the children -- they can only be administered by someone who has completed an "approved" course taught by the Board of Nursing or a registered nurse.

This wouldn't be a problem, except that by "medication" they mean everything from cough syrup, ibuprofen, and Benadryl to inhalers, epi-pens, and sunscreen.

That means that, if one of my mother's preschoolers has an asthma attack, or an allergic reaction to something, it's not just against school policy for my mom to do anything about it, it is actually against the law. She has to get the only teacher in the school who has MAT training -- the woman who owns the school, who not only handles the administrative tasks but also teaches the upper grades (third through sixth)--and, might I add, she has to somehow do this without abandoning either the child who is in distress or the remainder of her class, both of which are also illegal.

Fortunately, I should say, the school owner is always going to place student safety above all else. My mom has asthma and all of the teachers -- myself included, since I'm on the roll as a substitute -- know how to use the epi-pens in case of an emergency. It's just that constant terror of "if the inspector walks in while I'm saving this child's life, they have the potential to not only have me arrested but shut down the entire school." Still. It's not just school officials who don't understand what they're regulating -- it's politicians.

Posted by Don, Northern New York on January 25, 2016:

I can't say it any better than you have, but one thing puzzles me. If every state has a law that asthmatic children must be allowed their inhalers, and a school is denying it, can't you file a criminal complaint against the principal and/or nurse (the confiscators) -- before there's an incident? Get the police involved on the children's side, and teach the administration that blind adherence to rules which violate the law and threaten children's lives is going to cost them personally and professionally?

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You might think so, but I've never heard of such a case even when a child has actually been harmed by such a failure. One has to wonder why, especially considering how we've seen that the police are happy to file charges against children who haven't clearly violated the law. -rc

Posted by Karl -- Los Angeles on January 25, 2016:

Definitely time for "zero tolerance" for child endangerment.

When parents can be arrested and jailed for the theoretical danger of letting their kids play in a front yard more than ten feet away, teachers, school nurses, and administrators should be subject to the same jeopardy for denying life-saving care.

Frankly, if I'd been a parent and found my child gasping for breath while the school administrators fiddled... Well... I keep my temper under very tight control because you really wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

Posted by John P. Miami, OK on January 25, 2016:

I completely agree with you: The school administrators and teachers should be held PERSONALLY responsible and charged with criminal actions for denying a child their medication. At the least they should be charged with Child Endangerment.

Posted by Marsha, Virginia on January 25, 2016:

This makes me sick. I'm an asthmatic, have been my entire life, and the thought of being in a full-blown asthma attack and having someone standing 5 feet from me saying, "I'm sorry, but you haven't followed all our rules and regs. If you can just get your HUSBAND to come down and sign this form, we'd be able to hand you this life-saving drug...you know, the one your doctor prescribed for exactly this situation. Now, would you like to borrow my phone??"

I think the thing that infuriates me most about this, is that the longer an attack goes on, the more an asthmatic's AIRWAY constricts, eventually making it impossible to even GET inhaler meds into him/her -- or the hospital ER to tube them and save their life. Those are precious few moments to waste on a flippin' signature, or to make a parent race to school!! And believe me, when you're an asthmatic kid, the very first thing that's drilled into you is how and when to use your meds! No one, not even a school nurse, should be second-guessing a child having an asthma attack. You can ask questions later, you can sign the forms after school, but you CANNOT cure a child who's brain has been deprived of oxygen for too long, and you sure as hell can't bring them back from the dead. Zero tolerance must stop, and I could not agree with you more, Randy. Criminal charges seem to be the only avenue left (as much as I loathe our litigious country), and perhaps if enough people go this route, the madness will finally end. Thank you for continuing to fight against this scourge.

Posted by Lane, De Soto, KS on January 25, 2016:

I seem to remember you commenting a while back that one way to stop this idiocy is to cut the teacher's and administrator's pay because they're not using the judgment, skills and training for which they are being paid. I wholeheartedly agree with that concept.

I, as a taxpayer, am expected to pay an administrator $X for their higher level of skill and knowledge.

Conversely, if they are only going to parrot "policy" and not make any kind of reasonable judgment that may be required of them, they don't need to be paid as much. I can train and "pay" a monkey to follow a policy by rote.

Start cutting pay for the blind leading the children (along with PERSONAL liability lawsuits) and you'll see some ZT changes.

P.S. I won't even get into the professional liability of a registered nurse, standing by while her PATIENT suffers from a potentially fatal asthma attack. My wife is an RN and I know what her liability insurance costs.

Posted by Skip, Oklahoma on January 25, 2016:

The only thing that zero tolerance proves, is that these moronic obliviots are too simple minded to use reason when dealing with situations. Rather than assessing a situation, they are given blanket approaches for resolving all issues. By using these imbecilic regulations, they feel that they can avoid lawsuits by hiding behind their asinine rules, without having to utilize that awesome tool, called a 'brain'. Who the hell are these obliviots, and how can we get them replaced by people, who aren't afraid to use their brain?

Posted by Brian, CT on January 25, 2016:

Here's an interesting thought: under Texas law (and I'm quoting from here) "a person causes an offense [murder] if he knowingly or willfully causes the death of an individual". Which means, realistically, you could make a case for first-degree murder, if either child had died. And it's automatically a capital offense if the dead kid is 10 or younger.

Not that I want this to happen or anything, and I thank God it didn't this week, but a first-degree murder charge should be cause for some thought.

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The execution would be quite a spectacle. -rc

Posted by Jim, Shropshire England on January 26, 2016:

The school nurse needs to lose her license. Whilst she may try and hide behind the defence that she was following "school policy", there is no defence to her failure to call 911. We are rapidly moving towards laws which remove the ability of any individual to exercise judgement. I do feel that the family should seek to have the nurses license removed.

Posted by George, KS on January 26, 2016:

Suing these people does no good. They just pay the lawsuits off with tax money that should be used for students. Throwing them in jail works. Incidents like these should be subject to criminal (felony) charges and jail time.

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Lawsuits work because school boards get the message that they must change policies, or be forced to pay out. But I'm still in favor of jail time. -rc

Posted by Jerry, Welwyn, UK on January 26, 2016:

This may be the most serious issue you have raised in your ever thought-provoking writings. Yes, prescribed medications are -- by definition -- "controlled", but anyone can see the difference between a medicine and marijuana -- anyone with any common sense, that is.

I was going to call for everyone to raise this issue to ensure that no further tragedies take place, but if “all 50 states have laws that allow children with asthma to carry inhalers at school" then surely those laws have higher priority than any school policies.

So maybe we do need a call to everyone to raise the issue, but to help ensure that schools follow the law, after first understanding what the law is, of course. They should also examine the wording of their own procedures, and perhaps (a) insert a clause exempting "medicines, such as asthma inhalers" from the list of banned drugs and (b) tell their staff to use common sense to ensure the safety of any pupil or member of staff in the case of a medical emergency.

Posted by Marty, Odessa TX on January 26, 2016:

Parents need to start pestering the school boards. They are usually the ones who set these policies and school budgets. Go armed with the laws for your state. Start by appealing to their "common sense" but make it clear you WILL seek criminal and punitive ($$) damages should "neglect to render aid" occur to your child. And keep it up. Contact other parents. Get a parent or grandparent on the board. Use social media to the full extent. (Sadly, shame and embarrassment can be effective. At least here it is warranted.)

Many states have "good Samaritan" laws exempting folks from liability when rendering aid in an emergency. They need to be applied to this situation as well.

Posted by Ann, AR on January 26, 2016:

Last year I had to take an entire day off of work in order to make it possible for my middle-school son to take Tums at lunch time at school.

The doctor was sure if he didn't take the Tums he would eventually need stronger medicine, but didn't want to go straight to the stronger medicine because of possible side-effects.

The school wouldn't let him have Tums because they didn't have a pharmacy prescription label.

The pharmacy said it was against policy to put on a prescription label because it was an OTC drug.

I had to drive all over town before I found a kindly pharmacist who was willing to put a pharmacy label on the Tums so I could give it to the school nurse to lock up in the drug closet.

Then I had to sign a form saying that my son was allowed to take the Tums on which I had to write out exactly the dosing information which was on the pharmacy label they had forced me to get put on the Tums.

Then I had to sign a form saying that I gave my permission for him to leave the lunchroom area to visit the nurse every day at lunch time for the rest of the month. Then I had to resign that form every month until school was out.

Then on the last day of school I had to go in during business hours to pick up the left-over Tums so I wouldn't be reported to the authorities for 'abandoning' prescribed drugs at the school.

While this wasn't life-threatening, if he hadn't gotten the Tums he could have developed serious issues. It is just ridiculous that a 13 year old can't be trusted to take an antacid.

Posted by Guy, Big Rock, TN on January 26, 2016:

Food for thought on this subject of medications for children in school. Not just inhalers, but any medication.

There are only 24 hours in a day. When you have a child going to school, you remain his or her parent, but as the saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child." The "village" includes teachers, 1st responders, Emergency Room personnel, etc.

ANY person who interacts with a child in an official capacity while the parent is absent COULD be considered "in parentis locus" (Latin for "in the place of the parent.")

When one considers that school aged children, attending school for a full school day, only have limited parental contact, this concept needs to be explored further.

As a father, when my children were school aged, both parents worked. Both were military. The children were awakened between 5:30 and 6 AM, were taken to a care givers home, and, unless there was a call for one or the other to go to the school, that was the parent's last contact with them until about 4:30 PM. Then the drive home, supper, homework or play time, and, considering age, somewhere between 8 and 9 PM, bed. Less than 30 minutes in the morning, and then between 3 1/2 to 4 hours in the evening for parental supervision.

Who had control of the children for most of their day? The school. They were the "local parent."

In most cases that I witnessed, the school took less and less responsibility for the child as a parent than as an administrator. I have to believe that today vs when my children were of age in the 1980's, there is even less "parental" guidance.

One of my children was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) at the age of 7, and placed on medication. I was the NCOIC of the Emergency Department or the local Army Hospital overseas, and the children were in the American Dependent School System, i.e. the system is closed, unlike in a civilian community. When discussing the medication needs of the child with the school, I was told that the school would have to administer her medication to her from the office. When I pointed out the disruptive nature of that procedure, I was told, "that's the policy." Many times the child would be picked up from the care giver and tell us that she had been refused her medication. Reasons varied, but the top of the list was that there was no one (the school nurse) to give it to her. I finally had to make arrangements to go to the school and administer the medication myself. Very unacceptable. And I was fortunate in that I could do this. Other soldiers had no way of doing so.

The local parent is required, under law, to have the best interests of the child in mind while caring for him or her. If it can be demonstrated that the "local parent" knows of a need and fails to deliver on that need, they are negligent of their "parental" duties, and can be charged with child neglect.

I hope this information will be helpful to those that need it. Be aware that I am not a lawyer, and your State law prevails, so check with an attorney before flying off half cocked.

Posted by Robert, Henderson NC on January 26, 2016:

Kudos! Zero tolerance obliviots that risk children's lives to satisfy their rules deserve to be held personally responsible for poor decisions. And it baffles me that these people that are supposed to be responsible for their students, don't have enough sense or compassion to call 911 for a sick child.

Posted by Karl, N.J. on January 26, 2016:

The only way to make this stop is by suing each person in the decision chain personally. Just saying "I was just following orders" doesn't apply to soldiers then it should not apply to school administers either.

The other option is to take everyone who does this, tie their hands and tape a bag over their head. Then tell them to go to the nurse's office and wait for a trained bag removal officer. And that person will need written permission to unlock the cabinets with the sharp knives since there is zero tolerance for those.

Posted by Peggy, Washington on January 26, 2016:

If this had happened to my son, in all the years he needed his inhaler, heads would have rolled and I would be very rich. I am a grandmother now, and I'm calling the school district in the morning to find out the current policy. I do know they have some very stupid ideas about requiring a current doctor's note to be allowed to sit out of PE for any reason...including being on crutches with a cast! Talk about Obliviot Central.

Posted by Mike, N.J. on January 26, 2016:

If you think about it, the blame doesn't belong *solely* or even *mainly* on the in-school people involved. The bulk of the blame belongs on the various school boards & district administrators who *make* these policies. The in-school people involved are only following the policies imposed upon them. While we may all wish the violated the policies in cases such as these, doing so could get them *fired*. So they are stuck in a no-win situation. They can either:

1) follow the policies & maybe watch a kid suffer / die.
2) violate the policies and maybe get fired.

As I said, a classic no-win situation. Given this, how many of us would, knowing the risks, *really* do #2? Realize that if you get fired, when you apply for your next position you'll probably be asked "why were you fired from your last job". If you answer truthfully "I broke a [providing controlled substances to kids] policy & possibly saved a kid's life" you might *not* get that job (i.e. why hire an admitted policy breaker; especially *that* policy).

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I'm not sure getting fired would really happen: "You want me to talk to the newspapers and tell them you fired me because I refused to just sit and watch one of the students die? Huh... OK." -rc

Posted by Kellie in PA on January 26, 2016:

I cannot fathom how any adult can stand by and watch a child die and not do a thing. How can you be so selfish to say well if I help them things will go badly for me so I will just let them die, what a shame. Anyone who would think like this should not be working around children (or other people).

While in between jobs I worked for a brief period as a caregiver for senior citizens. I was told when hired that even though I am CPR certified I was absolutely not allowed to perform CPR in a crisis -- all I could do was call 911. I understand that the agency was not licensed by the state to allow their caregivers to perform any medical duties but I always knew that was one rule I would break if the situation ever arose. I cannot stand there and watch someone die without doing all I am trained to do to help.

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Though it is unethical to do CPR on someone with a valid "Do Not Resuscitate" order. -rc

Posted by Maya, New York on January 26, 2016:

My child has carried "illegal" asthma inhalers and benadryl ever since he was old enough to know how to use them. Even when you sign permission slips for the use of inhalers, there can be, as in these cases, excessive delays. There is something deeply broken here.

Posted by Kellie in PA on January 26, 2016:

Not really relevant to this topic but to respond to your response to me about CPR one of my patients did have a Do Not Resuscitate order. It was posted on the fridge and his wife made sure I was aware. I would have completely respected that and made sure EMTs were aware of it as well. Fortunately I never had any medical incidents, although I did see some sad stuff doing that job.

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Perfect! -rc

Posted by Charlene, Winnipeg, MB on January 29, 2016:

The real problem isn't *just* ZT, although that's certainly one factor, but also the mindset that medical conditions in children and women are generally fake unless proven otherwise. (Note that only women and children need to provide that proof; this despite the long-established fact that the majority of hypochondriacs are men.)

It's a form of denial, pure and simple: people can't die of a sporadic condition that has no known cause like asthma because if they do, that means anyone can die. Therefore it's just craaaaazy craaaaazy mom, stupid neurotic idiot that she is, who's just making up or exaggerating the severity of the condition for attention.

This happens with lots of conditions, not just asthma. Getting rid of zero tolerance isn't going to fix the problem: we also have to be more willing to accept that other people's medical conditions are real even if that reality is scary and threatening -- and even if the sufferer isn't a reliable adult man.

Posted by Rich, Charlotte on January 29, 2016:

I have never in my life responded to a blog. However this pisses me off. I would laugh in the face of the school officials if they tried to suspend my son or daughter for helping a fellow classmate. Everyone would know about it because I would be all over the place telling anybody that would listen what happened. It is unacceptable that in today's society a person could just stand by and watch a child suffer. How would they react if it were their child suffering.

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With righteous indignation, of course! -rc

Posted by Rhonda, Memphis, Tn on January 29, 2016:

The "asthma" stories are almost unbelievable. Surely those schools and the nurses or staff would have provisions in case of emergency. I almost can't imagine such idiocy. Almost. But then I'm a regular reader.

Posted by David, NSW, Australia on January 29, 2016:

The stupidity in some of these cases is overwhelming. At work, I am required to have a basic first aid qualification. As part of that training we are instructed on the use of inhalers and epi-pens, etc. We have to renew every 3 years. Teachers should be required to have first aid training before they enter a classroom. It's not rocket science.

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Agree, but what about the nurse? She was clearly trained -- even fully educated -- to have that title, yet she stood idly by. It's not just training, but mindset. -rc

Posted by Derek, Germany on January 30, 2016:

This is truly heartbreaking. Here's what I don't understand: here in Germany, you can be prosecuted for failing to give assistance to someone who obviously needs it. We are legally obliged to help and standing idly or running away will land you in big trouble. I don't think these laws are exclusive to Germany. Do you have something similar in USA?

Surely the law of the land has priority over policy! Trained nurses who neglect their duty because of 'policy' and watch their patients suffer and possibly die need to be held accountable, as do the fools who make and enforce such negligent stupidly.

---

The nurse surely had a duty to act, and maybe other school officials, depending on the state. That's why I'm pressing for criminal charges. (Mere passersby don't have a duty to act in most cases.) -rc

Posted by John, Iowa on January 30, 2016:

There is only one solution. Every individual involved needs to be brought up on felony child endangerment charges. The teacher, the school nurse, the principal, and every member of the school board who instituted the policy. To #$%^ with suing them, make sure they are ACTUALLY held accountable for their inaction, with fines and time behind bars. Then, once their sentence is completed, put them under a lifetime ban from working in the field of education.

Posted by Nate, Royal Oak, Michigan on January 30, 2016:

At what point does the school's interference in a medical treatment plan become practicing medicine without a license? They're clearly saying their judgment or policy or whatever can override the doctor's guidance.

Posted by Neville, England on January 30, 2016:

Living in England with brother and his family living in Florida I am Interested in the goings on in the USA.

In England the expression is or was (I am now 75 years old): "Rules are for fools".

That is to say, they are a safety net in case the person in charge has no common sense.

People who stick to the rules come what may are referred to as "Job's worths" as in: "it's more than my Job's worth governor" and are rightly ridiculed.

---

And indeed, that's part of what I'm trying to do in general: ridicule the lack of thought too many are relying on. So many don't even try to think anymore. -rc

Posted by Scott, Portland Oregon on January 30, 2016:

I think you have to ask yourself what's worse: The policy, or the hiring/empowering of obliviots who are clueless about when to not enforce policy?

Posted by Carol, NJ on January 30, 2016:

As an RN, I am ashamed to be lumped in with the so called school nurses who fail the students by not doing their jobs...@#$%!!! the forms, look at the child presenting him/herself at the office, and DO something!!! You have what amounts to the doctors order to give the med on the prescription med package.

Mothers, DO NOT release your child's meds to the nursing office. The child must learn how to use his/her own properly labeled prescription asthma meds to prevent death or other serious consequences from the asthma attack, and deal with the bureaucracy afterward.

Signed...An RN from NJ

Posted by Jim - Frankfort, IN on January 30, 2016:

The incidences you cited are tragic and should have never happened. I agree with almost all of your commentary and other's comments with one objection. Please don't paint all schools with the same brush. The comments I read would lead one to believe that all schools are doing the things you cited.

I taught for several years in a school that encouraged students with asthma to carry their inhalers at all times. During physical education classes the student would have the teacher hold the inhaler so it would be available at a moment's notice. At no time was a student denied their inhaler as described in the January 24, 2016 issue.

---

I don't believe anyone who puts actual thought to this would conclude I'm arguing "all schools" are this stupid. Clearly that's not the case. One school would be too many, though, and equally clearly, this is happening at far more schools than that -- not just in Texas, and not just in the United States. -rc

Posted by Leon, Johannesburg on January 30, 2016:

This is ABSOLUTELY FRIGHTENING.

Thank you Randy for bringing this our attention.

How can a school even think about doing what they are doing?

The schools should (as you say) be taken to task and penalized most heavily for their INCOMPETENCE and IGNORANCE and STUPIDITY.

It's very sad that pigheadedness like this is allowed to prosper.

Posted by Steve, NY on January 30, 2016:

*snark* - waterboard the officials, and see how compassion comes forward when THEY find out what it's like to not be able to breathe!

BUT - I have a nephew with autoimmune issues. Pediatric migraines and emotional collapse are a frequent affliction. He easily experiences sensory overload. It is very hard on him to endure a reasonable school atmosphere, and he struggles with a lot of lost time educationally.

My sister notes that the school has "been very caring to him". But in an administrative confab, they actually came to the conclusion that he needed to be at home for his education, where his environment can be much better managed. She says, "Everyone at the school and the superintendent and the boy's counselor think it is a good idea to bring him home. They had meetings and conversations before meeting with us [parents]... Can you imagine a whole school coming to this decision before the parents?"

So credit where it is due. A rural school loses money, especially with the departure of a special needs kid. But they were intent to see the boy succeed, and realized they simply couldn't provide what was best for him. He will now have the flexibility of homeschooling, with enthusiastic support from the district.

Sometimes they get it right out there!

Posted by Annette - Austin TX on January 30, 2016:

I was under the impression that when a nurse is licensed they take an oath to help people in need of medical help. Seems to me, they could not only lose the license to practice, but also be sued and or arrested, depending on the local law. How could the nurse forget the rules which are part of her license? Wouldn't that take precedence over any stupid rule set up by a non-medical person?

I used to be on a school board, and it appears that people who are now educators have all suffered severe head injuries or been educated at the Shifting Whispering Sands College of Education.

Are we a society which is now so afraid of making a mistake that we prefer doing nothing -- no matter the outcome?

Posted by Ian, England on January 30, 2016:

Living in England, with a brother and his family living in California, I too am following this discussion with interest.

Fortunately for my peace of mind, my brother (now a US citizen) heard the same litany from our father -- "Rules were made for the guidance of the wise man and the obedience of fools".

Perhaps things would be slightly better if all countries that use English as their native language distinguished between "medicines" and "drugs", as (my part of) the United Kingdom does.

My wife and I don't have children, for reasons that are not relevant here, but we both have up-to-date emergency first aid certification (I am required to have it as part of my being a 'responder member' -- that is SUV driver -- in our local '4x4 Response' group), and I have additional formal training in the use of an AED (automatic external defibrillator), and would try to "be there" if someone needed what support we can provide until the professionals arrive, rules or no rules.

My wife works as a receptionist in our local hospital Emergency Department. The rules say that, being non-clinical, she is not supposed to do anything beyond hit the "panic button" if someone suffered a health event in the waiting room, but she says she would ignore that if all the clinical staff were already occupied with priority cases.

Posted by Dana, Colorado on January 30, 2016:

And the absurdity of this is, if you have a hyperactive child the school will CAMPAIGN to put said child on some sort of 'calming' medication. And make sure such child is 'properly dosed'.

Ridiculous!

Posted by Joe, Wisconsin on January 30, 2016:

Is prohibition of sharing asthma medicine, between students, unwise? I don't know anything about asthma. Is all medicine the same, would a treatment for one be harmful for another?

---

The primary "rescue inhaler" (and noted in the story) contains albuterol, which is well studied, very benign, and doesn't make one feel "high" (so has very little risk of abuse) -- yet it can keep kids from dying. I understand that in the U.K., schools are getting "extras" so that they can save kids with breathing problems, even if they don't have one of their own. THAT is appropriate risk-benefit tradeoff thinking. -rc

Posted by Newell, Australia on January 31, 2016:

At least in the USA you have some options not available here in Australia.

As you say in your reply to Carl from Utah, "the taxpayers shouldn't be the only ones on the hook: the school officials should bear personal responsibility for such decisions. -rc"

I have found over the years that the best educator of all is the hip pocket nerve.

First choice could be a Citizens Initiated Referendum requiring:

Any school official (NOT the school - JUST the obliviots) who prevents a child accessing legal medication prescribed by the students doctor when required MUST be charged with your most serious child cruelty offense with a minimum fine of $10,000 per offender. If the obliviot was complying with school policy each and every member of the school board must also be charged unless they are previously on record as opposing that policy. Where a teacher causes a delay in the person receiving their medication they also get charged.

If the child required hospitalization as a result of being deprived of their medication those fines jump to $20,000 each plus a mandatory compensation payment to the victim of $20,000.

If the child suffers a permanent disability as a result the fine becomes $50,000 per year for life.

If the child dies the official is to be charged with premeditated murder.

Plea bargaining is prohibited.

Second choice is that many of your school officials are elected.

Mount a massive social media campaign to unseat any elected official that does not require their school to permit all students access to medically prescribed legal medication.

Posted by bern Michigan on January 31, 2016:

To expand on my previous post: Some of the responders have proposed penalties that to me seem draconian. I say this because I think the problem does not really originate with the school personnel (but they are culpable for putting up with it) but rather with our system of liability litigation. This system, where there is literally no cost to starting a lawsuit, even if you eventually lose makes suing seem like an easy way to make some money. And the trial lawyers have done very well with it. Most other civilized countries in the world have a "loser pays" policy in civil lawsuits forcing more careful selection of cases before bringing a lawsuit.

At any rate, our epidemic of lawsuits in almost all fields of endeavor has led to many folks and businesses having expensive liability insurance to cover at least the cost of hiring a defense attorney. Typically these insurance providers demand certain policies and behaviors from their clients in the hope of lessening lawsuits. So we have a system where the insurer says 'make a policy', the supervisors then make a policy that is as broad as possible to be sure of compliance, the employees interpret that policy as broadly as possible to avoid punishment from the employer, and Voila! we end up where we are today.

I don't think draconian punishments of administrators or employees will solve this problem. Only a real overhaul of our liability litigation system will lead to a solution, and that overhaul needs to start with nationwide implementation of a "loser pays" system as most of the rest of the world has. Then insurance companies, school boards and employers will feel less inclined to implement ZT policies, and the flexibility to intelligently deal with individual problems will increase.

---

As one who has called for an overhaul of our lawsuit industry, I agree that's necessary. Still, when the highly paid professional school officials make such harmful decisions, they need to be held personally accountable -- just as parents would be if they withheld life-saving treatment their children need. -rc

Posted by Stewart, WA on February 1, 2016:

Why are our teachers and school officials acting like they are above the law? Maybe because our leaders and corporate officials that do so are setting the example.

Exactly how can a school nurse or principal Not be held responsible for homicide in cases like this? What kind of free pass does a school have?

I'd like to see their Coffee taken away because caffeine is a drug.

Personally I don't see this madness ending anytime soon, because the root cause of the rise of asthma, and brain fog, is not being addressed.

Google "radiation induced mast cell activation" Have you read/watched research by Olie Johansson? He did a good presentation in Barcelona last October.

Another direction of relevant research, considering the rise of WiFi in schools, is "Los Angeles firefighters oppose towers on stations, claim brain fog".

Posted by Derek in Santa Fe on February 1, 2016:

While I agree with that this and other ZT policies are often horrible, I think we need to work on the problem at multiple levels. The most vocal and active parents, as a group, tend to enforce policies and school board members which exploit/invent dramatic problems, and respond with tough solutions like zero tolerance, and similarly narrow-thinking approaches. Politicians at the local, state, and national level also tend to thrive, when they champion zero tolerance thinking and legislation. "Get tough" governors appoint educationists with similar viewpoints.

I sympathize with all the "punish the bastards" sentiment expressed here, but that approach to problem solving is part of what got us into the zero tolerance mess that we have. We need to adopt Randy's frequent admonition, and actually think about the consequences of our actions. If we vote for people who favor slogans over intelligence, then we will have more trouble getting rid of thoughtless policies. Let's eliminate zero tolerance at the school level and get rid of the political climate that makes it the common choice in our school boards and legislatures.

Posted by Jackie, Tacoma, Wa on February 1, 2016:

So having read this, I have a question for Randy or anyone else who might be reading this: Who do we talk to about this? If I wanted to write letters, send petitions, etc, who should I address to make this as effective as possible? As someone with close friends who have asthma, having seen their asthma attacks, this makes me very angry.

(On a related note, I have a good friend who recently started working in her local school district, who said they have a "neglect" policy stating that if you withhold any treatment or help from a child at school who then comes to harm due to your inaction, then you can face a lot of unpleasant consequences including never working with children in a public setting again. She said they talked specifically about asthma, epi-pens, diabetic treatments, and epilepsy, but also talked in general. You don't have to give the treatment yourself -- for something like an epi-pen you're probably not supposed to -- but you do something like CALL the nurse or 911. I was happy to hear about at least ONE school district showing common sense.)

---

And that's how: get involved, and lead by example. Nothing less will suffice. -rc

Posted by Sam from Atlanta on February 2, 2016:

I'm curious why the parents allow these policies to be in effect in the first place. If my son has the potential to die from an asthma attack, and carrying an inhaler could save his life, he's carrying the inhaler. If some school official wants to say otherwise, they will have a serious fight on their hands, one which they will not win. If the option is to put my son in danger of losing his life over some airhead policy, or pulling him out of that school, then the school is history. And I don't mince words in those situations. The endless stream of vulgarities that would be directed at these officials would cause porn stars to blush.

Do the parents of these children never meet with school officials in the beginning and read them the riot act, and alert them as to just how stupid they are? Or do they just sit back and grumble about the policy without actually doing anything about it?

---

I think a lot of them don't know about it, and when they do, they feel powerless to protest. Not all have powerful cojones, such as yourself. -rc

Posted by Miguel, Irvine CA on February 4, 2016:

I am an asthmatic. As a child it was serious enough that my mother had adrenaline and syringes to be able to treat me in an emergency. I would break those rules in a heartbeat.

No teacher, nurse or school official should be scared of losing their jobs to help a child in an emergency. They are tasked with ensuring the well-being of the children in their care and that duty has to come ahead of anything else.

When schools violate their duty, there must be repercussions. Lawsuits, criminal charges, firings, recall elections and media coverage. We need to bring every gun to bear on this problem. Anything to bring about the needed change and bring common sense to these zero intelligence policies.

Posted by Eileen in San Jose on February 6, 2016:

My son, now an adult, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at 14. I'm a pediatric nurse and therefore was his teacher and support person during his remaining time in public school. We set up a small zippered case with his blood sugar meter, insulin, syringes, etc., and he carried it in his backpack. We had no trouble at his middle school. I signed all the permission forms required for him to take care of his needs during school hours. He was using a new (at that time) therapy concept that required him to test and take insulin at lunchtime. When he moved to high school, I went there to establish a relationship with the nurse. She didn't understand the new method and was unwilling to learn from the literature I had provided. My son's MD called and wrote letters to no avail.

One afternoon in November, my son arrived home and reported that the nurse had taken his "kit" away that morning telling him that he could use the contents at lunch and then pick it up that afternoon before getting on the bus for home. Well...of course, the health office was locked after school and my son had to get on the bus to get home. I, of course, was livid and we got right in the car to go back to school to retrieve his kit. I had words with the dean and the principal. I emphasized the fact that this equipment was my son's lifeline and it WAS NOT to be taken from him. They were better after that, but on the last day of school that year, the school nurse sent a referral to the county health department stating that I "was neglecting my son's needs and was not obtaining appropriate medical care for my special needs child." Then, this nurse disappeared on her extended sabbatical. Not that I would retaliate, but she must have thought it was possible! The poor county health nurse who called me two weeks later got an earful of the situation and decided that she did not need to visit us.

My son is 38 now, a parent and is doing well. I have no idea what happened to that school nurse. I hope she isn't causing too much trouble for the parents of other special needs kids.

Posted by Constantin, Guayaquil, Ecuador on February 6, 2016:

Zero Tolerance seems to equal Zero Common Sense in so many cases, which then sadly confirms the saying "why is common sense so uncommon?" I guess one explanation is that "obliviots" with no common sense are teaching the new generations to ignore common sense, even in life threatening situations....

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Bingo. -rc

Posted by Neil, Cape Paterson Australia on February 7, 2016:

Eileen said 'Not that I would retaliate' but I would! To the maximum possible. Any medical person who not only was not up to 'the state of the art' but refused to learn, has no business being in the job. They are a risk to anyone who needs their services.

Randy, I wonder if it would stir some action if the URL to this stream was sent to ?????

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