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Is there a law that says the school has to let my child carry her own inhaler?
Yes and No.
In response to the widespread problem of children being denied their medication at school, many states have passed laws that specifically state that children can carry "an inhaler" at school. These state laws usually require the signed permission or authorization of the child's parents and the prescribing physician and sometimes require parents to sign the school's "release of liability."
These laws usually have the broad support of frustrated parents. But be careful what you wish for. This approach to medication management can create unintended risks for children. In too many school districts, inhaler "self-administration" is the result of a "conspiracy of convenience" that allows schools to evade the duty to care for a child.
In brief, children have the right to the health management support they need to attend school. And, schools have the responsibility to make sure that children with asthma, allergies and other health conditions can depend on knowledgeable people to plan for the safe, reliable and effective use of their medication.
However, parents need to know that schools can vary enormously in the understanding and willingness to address students' health and safety needs.
How a student's inhaler is managed at school should be an individual decision based on several factors. Consider the child's age, asthma status and asthma knowledge. Then consider the school's asthma knowledge, staffing and experience. What are the challenges in the school environment to lung health? The asthma care and prevention guidelines should be documented in the student's comprehensive Individualized Health Plan.
In addition, the safe use of medication is an ongoing learning task. Unfortunately it is rare to find a school health program that teaches medication safety. In fact, many school medication policies are worded in language more appropriate for discouraging drug abusers than protecting students with asthma. In some schools, where there are no health professionals, school officials make decisions that can put a child at serious medical, psychological, emotional, and educational risk.
Most students need supervision, monitoring, assistance or support, even when they carry their own medication. Parents should expect school professionals to be partners in protecting their children and also promoting the development, over time, of age-appropriate self-care skills.
Access to education for all children is protected by federal anti-discrimination laws (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). There are federal and state laws for children with special needs designed to individualize services and program and policy modifications to meet the needs of children with health impairments and chronic health conditions that interfere with learning. All children with asthma are entitled to school health services, a "related service" that protects their health and educational goals.
Everyone benefits when schools have high standards for the health and safety of all students. You can learn more about rights of students and the responsibilities of schools in protecting and promoting students' health and education in many Healthy Kids articles and in the other resources and references on the website.
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)