The state Supreme Court's ruling this week that trained school personnel can administer insulin to students provides not only long-sought relief for diabetic children and their parents, it marks a victory for reasonableness over financially self-interested unions.
The legal dispute, which has dragged on since 2005, originated in the San Ramon Valley and Fremont Unified school districts, which had refused to make provisions for diabetic students who require regular monitoring of their glucose levels and administration of insulin.
Under federal law, schools must provide assistance to students with disabilities. But some school officials were refusing. In the San Ramon case, the school principal told a child's mother that she would have to be on-call at all times to administer insulin.
A federal court lawsuit followed. The case had widespread implications. Roughly one in 400 school-age children nationwide have diabetes, including about 14,000 in California. They don't all need insulin injections and many who do are old enough to self-administer without supervision.
But, for the rest, there are only about 2,800 school nurses statewide. Just 5 percent of California schools have full-time school nurses. Yet most children requiring insulin injections need them about the same time, around lunchtime. And many students need insulin at other, sometimes unpredictable, times during the day.
The challenge is how to serve so many students with limited staffing. In 2007, a reasonable settlement was reached with the state Department of Education. Under the deal, when possible, school nurses would administer insulin. When they weren't available, other school personnel, who would receive special training, would provide the injections.
But the American Nurses Association, which was more concerned with manufacturing jobs than protecting precious education dollars for, well, education, kept fighting, this time alleging in state court that California law allowed only licensed health care providers to administer insulin to diabetic students.
They won superior and appellate court rulings, but fortunately the American Diabetes Association took the case to the state high court. The justices ruled Monday that California law expressly permits trained, unlicensed school personnel to administer insulin and other prescription medications in accordance with written direction from a student's physician and parents.
Unfortunately, this is probably not the last we'll hear from the nurses' unions. They're already talking about seeking U.S. Supreme Court intervention. Meanwhile, look for them to haggle over the meaning of "trained" personnel, and to discourage nurses from providing that training.
And, of course, look for them to lobby state legislators to change the law, to force schools to spend limited funds to employ more nurses -- to put the interests of one special interest ahead of the children's educational needs.
Lawmakers must say no. For students' sake, it's time to move on.