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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Camp Must Face Claims Over Epileptic Children

CHICAGO (CN) - A camp that forbids staff from administering medication rectally must face charges that it discriminates against people with epilepsy, a federal judge ruled.

The Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association, or NISRA, is a public entity, designed to provide year-round activities for children and adults with developmental, physical, neurological, emotional and learning disabilities.

Its policy, however, forbids staff from administering an anti-seizure medication called Diastat, which must be rectally injected. Since campers with epilepsy might suffer a life-threatening seizure without access to Diastat, the policy allegedly blocks their access to NISRA programs and summer camps.

In a September 2012 complaint, the U.S. government accused NISRA of discriminating "against individuals with epilepsy on the basis of disability, by denying them an equal opportunity to participate in the recreational programs NISRA provides because it refuses to administer a potentially lifesaving anti-seizure medication."

U.S. District Judge James Zagel refused Thursday to dismiss the lawsuit, which describes the concerns of two families with epileptic children.

M.M., a 17-year-old with epilepsy and an IQ of 69, is supposed to take Diastat "upon the onset of a tonic-clonic seizure," according to the complaint.

The teen attended NISRA's summer camp in 2011 without suffering a seizure, but she has experienced several seizures since then, and her parents are allegedly worried about sending her back because of NISRA's policy against Diastat.

N.R. is an 8-year-old girl diagnosed with epilepsy, whose doctor also prescribed Diastat for prolonged seizures. Her "parents remain concerned about what will happen if N.R. needs Diastat at camp and cannot get it," according to the complaint.

Zagel noted that the complaint accuses NISRA of exposing "its epileptic participants to a risk of serious injury and death, when NISRA could reasonably accommodate those participants."

"The complaint persistently alleged that the refusal to accommodate, by administering Diastat, effectively denied a benefit 'on the basis of' M.M.'s, N.R.'s, and other epileptic participants' disability," the ruling states.

Zagel distinguished the claims against NISRA from K.S.R. v. Pete Geren, the Department of Justice denied that it would be a reasonable accommodation for the Army to administer Diastat.

"Defendant argues this is an admissible admission, fatal to plaintiff's instant case," Zagel wrote. "But '[r]easonableness is not a constant. To the contrary, what is reasonable in a particular situation may not be reasonable in a different situation - even if the situational differences are relatively slight.'"

He also rejected NISRA's argument that administering the drug would be an undue burden.

"The complaint also suggests that any training required to administer Diastat is comparable to the training already provided by NISRA: staff learn how to properly respond to seizures, feed children with gastronomy feeding tubes, and to administer other prescription and emergency drugs," Zagel wrote.

The ruling later states: "What may constitute an undue hardship for one entity may not be an undue hardship for another entity. A ruling on defendant's affirmative defenses requires more knowledge as to the nature of NISRA's services provided and the actual financial and administrative burdens the requested accommodation would impose."

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