Diastat Bill Needs a Gubernatorial Veto
By Joshua Pechthalt and Pat Christie, RN
What do you do with legislation that proposes to meet a real need, but diverts attention from the real solution, and stampedes legislators to vote for it in a cloud of emotional manipulation of the issue?
You ask the governor to veto it.
This is what should happen with Senate Bill 161, which allows administration of a prescription dose of valium by a non-medical K-12 school employee volunteer to students with seizure disorders. The drug, Diastat, must be injected rectally in a child experiencing a seizure lasting longer than their usual seizure activity. This assumes the volunteer knows the student’s typical seizure pattern, and can determine this is different.
Diastat’s manufacturer recommends the student be observed for 4 hours post- administration (respiratory arrest is one of the potential side effects of this medication).
This bill manipulates parents of medically fragile children into believing their children will have safe conditions for learning, when they do not, and into resenting school employees who refuse, for good reasons, to take on what should be a medical professional's task. It deftly follows the Republican “look over there!” strategy of talking about anything in the world other than the need for revenues to fund our schools properly.
The author of the bill, Bob Huff, is a Republican who has voted against funding public education every chance he has had. He is a signatory to Grover Norquist’s “no new taxes” pledge, meaning he supports an all-cuts approach to solving the state’s budget deficit. One consequence of this approach is that the once ubiquitous school nurse is an endangered species.
The proponents of the bill dwell in an alternative universe in which declining funding for education is a given, and an opportunity for schools to become “more efficient.” They claim that there will be medical emergency training for volunteers, yet the bill provides not one dime of funding for training.
SB161 advocates would have us believe this is a simple medical task, and that anyone who refuses to learn how to do it is putting children at risk. Some parents and Republican legislators have emotionally accused school employees arguing for licensed medical personnel on school sites, instead of volunteers, of being selfish.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking.
One of the co-authors of this opinion editorial is a school nurse. The other is a former high school teacher. One of us is qualified to perform this procedure. She is a licensed medical professional, and knows what to do in a medical emergency. But because the Republicans refuse to restore more than $18 billion in cuts to public education over the past three years by never considering any tax, any time, there are fewer and fewer of her profession in the schools. This puts all our students, not just students with seizure disorders, at potential medical risk.
The other one of us has received no medical training, and if back in the classroom, would not receive such training under the financial terms of this bill. He would be scared to death to attempt to intervene in such a moment. But according to Bob Huff, this would be the appropriate choice to make.
It’s time to call out the Republicans who are steadily defunding our schools. It’s time to help the public understand why the Legislature is at a standstill, and why there is no prospect of things getting any better so long as just over one third of the Legislature is Republican. SB 161 would make a great teaching moment for Governor Jerry Brown. If he vetoes SB 161 with a clear message explaining we need licensed medical personnel, not volunteers, to handle medical emergencies in our schools, we would be a step closer to keeping all our children safer.
Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers. Pat Christie is a school nurse in Menlo Park.