Children with diabetes shut out of Florida prekindergarten programs

Florida prekindergarten programs are violating federal law by turning away children with diabetes and denying them an early childhood education, according to a discrimination complaint filed with the Department of Justice today by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The complaint, filed on behalf of the American Diabetes Association, describes how 4-year-old children with diabetes are at risk of being shut out of publicly funded prekindergarten programs, charged more for some services, or denied basic accommodations that would allow them to participate in these programs. The complaint calls for a federal investigation into the state’s failure to ensure access for these children.

“Denying children with diabetes the opportunity to attend Florida’s prekindergarten programs because of their disability clearly violates federal law,” said Stephanie Langer, SPLC staff attorney. “It also deprives these children of the enormous educational benefits of these programs. This discrimination must stop.”

Children with diabetes require multiple injections of insulin throughout the day, including times when they are likely to be in a prekindergarten program. Their blood glucose levels also must be monitored during the day. Failure to receive appropriate diabetes treatment based on blood glucose levels and other factors can lead to serious short-term and long-term complications.

The complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – federal laws that prohibit such discrimination. Florida’s state constitution provides eligible students with a voucher for prekindergarten services, regardless of need.

“It is critical that young children with diabetes have access to needed care throughout the day.  Child care providers can and must train staff to meet the needs of these children, who are too young to care for themselves,” said Larry C. Deeb, M.D., co-chair of the Safe at School Working Group and past president of Medicine & Science, American Diabetes Association. “The American Diabetes Association is committed to fighting for the rights of these children and making sure they have the care they need.”

The complaint includes the results of a test where two individuals posing as parents of children eligible for prekindergarten services called and questioned 75 providers in Broward County.  Both parents asked general questions about availability and pricing, and one parent, who identified herself as the mother of a child with diabetes, asked additional questions about accommodations for her child.

The test found that only 16 percent of providers expressed a willingness to make all reasonable accommodations requested for a child with diabetes, such as monitoring a child’s food intake, blood glucose testing and recording, and administering insulin.

The test also found that 32 percent of the prekindergarten providers subjected callers to adverse treatment when they said they were a parent of a child with diabetes. This included telling a caller there was no space in the program, while a caller identifying herself as the mother of a child without diabetes was told that there was space.

The complaint calls for prekindergarten programs to develop policies and guidelines to ensure children with diabetes receive the care they need. It also calls for requiring prekindergarten providers to receive training about the Americans with Disabilities Act and other relevant laws.