Cumberland County District Will Have Half-Days All Month Due to Lack of TeachersJanuary 31, 2022
This Is How a Jersey City Public Charter Is Building an Anti-Racist CultureFebruary 1, 2022
Two weeks ago I wrote about Maria Lorenz of Elizabeth who has two children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey’s third largest school district. There, an epidemic of “soft” corruption pervades the municipal government, the district’s 37 schools, and, particularly, the special education department which marginalizes Spanish-speaking parents without the resources to fight back.
“I’m an educated Latina,” Lorenz told me. “If Elizabeth Public Schools District is treating my boys so poorly, flagrantly disregarding the rules that govern IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans, which set forth annual goals, services, and benchmarks for students with disabilities), imagine what they’re doing to the rest of the Hispanic population?”
Now we have another example of exactly how low this district can go: Pablo (not his real name), Lorenz’s younger son, carries an epi-pen at all times for his severe allegies —Lorenz says he has multiple medical co-morbidities —but, as his doctor explains in a letter, “the patient cannot self-administer and would require epinephrine administration from a nurse or trained staff in case of severe allergic reactions.” Lorenz knows that Pablo can have an allergic reaction at any time and therefore requested that the district accomodate his medical needs not just while at school but also during his bus rides by having the bus aide or the bus driver trained to use an epi-pen.
Seems reasonable, right? What wouldn’t you do to prevent an anaphyactic reaction in a young boy? After all, the instructions on an epi-pen say that in the case of a severe allergic reaction the injection must be immediately administered. Then you call 911.
Elizabeth Public Schools begs to differ. First Lorenz tried to work through her Child Study Team. No dice. She invited people from the nursing department and the transportation department to her IEP meeting: they didn’t show up. She spoke at three school board meetings, begging administrators and board members to accomodate Pablo’s medical needs. Silence.
And so early in January she wrote a letter to Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer and Board President Rosa Moreno-Ortega. Here’s an excerpt:
Policy 5141.20 states under Family Responsibility that a parent should “Work with the school team to develop an individualized emergency health care plan (IEHP) that promotes food allergy management and accommodates the child’s needs throughout the school including the classroom, in the cafeteria, in after-care programs, during school sponsored activities, and on the school bus, as well as defined emergency allergic reaction plan”. I am unable to fulfill my responsibility when I am being threatened with a cease or desist order by [District Attorney] Mr. Flaum from further communication with the school nurse about the epi-pen and [Pablo’s] medical needs. These sewer tactics and threats not only limit my involvement as a parent but impedes fostering open communication and fulfilling my “family responsibility” in my role of parent. This bully type behavior is counter productive and takes away the focus from addressing [Pablo’s] medical needs to ensure that he is safe both at school and while he is transported home.
Lorenz requested a response by January 26th. Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer responded two days late and mega-amounts short, denying this simple and medically-necessary accomodation to protect Pablo. Instead, she suggested, if Pablo has a severe allergic reaction that requires injection of epinephrine, he can wait until he gets to school to have the nurse administer the medication or do it himself on the bus (against doctor’s orders). Lorenz and her husband will, once again, continue to fight for their children’s legally-mandated rights by taking the matter to the New Jersey State Office of Administrative Law’s Controversies and Disputes Department.
As she writes on Facebook, “it’s absolutely unconscionable that Olga Hugelmeyer and Rosa Moreno (board president) would put a policy above the safety and well being of a child. They can change a board policy to limit parental participation but not to keep a child safe. Shame on this board and Superintendent. The board makes the policy and if they need a law to tell them what common sense dictates then perhaps it’s time for a change from the board members down to the superintendent. This is discrimination against special needs children who have a medical condition and cannot self administer. Perhaps the board should continue to retain the criminal lawyer they paid over $100,000 to defend them because what they are doing is downright criminal !! #NJSBA #safetyfirst #specialneedsmom #EpiPen #MedicalNeeds #MedicalRisk #epipenonbus.”
She adds, “I am not just advocating for my child but for every child in Elizabeth who has a disability.”
Here is the full response from Hugelmeyer:
Dear Mrs. Lorenz,
The Elizabeth Board of Education mandates that our schools “ensure the placement and accessibility of epinephrine” according to board policy 5141.21 Administering Medication and 5141.20 Life Threatening Food Allergies. The school nurse oversees the recruitment and training of designees who volunteer to administer epinephrine during school and school-sponsored functions when the school nurse is not available. The school nurse also manages the education of all school staff to understand the school’s general emergency procedures and steps to take in the event of a life–threatening allergic reaction.
Parents/guardians are responsible to notify the school of the child’s allergies by filling out the required medical form(s) and obtaining medical authorization for EpiPen or other pre-filled auto injectors and/or Benadryl, etc, from the prescribing physician. Parents are also required to provide the medical documentation, instructions and medications as directed by a physician, including replacing expired medication. Medications are to be stored and kept in their original labeled container(s) per Policy 5141.21.
There is no Board of Education policy or applicable New Jersey law that would mandate the school to purchase/provide, and keep an Epi–pen on the bus. The Elizabeth Public School policy 5141.20 states, “the school’s responsibility is to work with the transportation administrator, to ensure that the school bus drivers receive training that includes symptom awareness and what to do if a reaction occurs: and to assess the means by which the bus driver can communicate during an emergency, including proper devices and equipment”.
The Elizabeth Board of Education Policy 5141.21R, Administering Medication shall permit a student to self-administer medication if the board determines the student is capable of self administration” and the parents provide the board with: (1) written authorization to self–administer; (2) certification from the student’s physician that the student has asthma, diabetes, or a life threatening illness and is capable of proper self–administration, and (3) sign a statement acknowledging the district shall incur no liability.
Furthermore, the policy continues to state that “No student may possess medication for self administration without having the written permission of the parent and the authorization of their physician to self-administer. A copy of such permission and authorization shall be maintained in the school nurse’s office”.
Therefore, if all conditions of Policy 5141.20 and 5141.21 are met and approval to self-carry epinephrine is granted, the student’s emergency care plan would indicate that an Epi–pen is available in the nurse’s office for the nurse to administer, and in the student’s backpack for the student to self–administer.
Olga Hugelmeyer Superintendent of Schools