Allergies, child care and the ADA
My sixteen-month-old son, Littler J, is severely allergic to eggs. My husband and I keep an Epipen with us at all times, and leave its twin with Littler’s child care.
My husband and I were considering moving Littler to his older brother’s school when it opens its infant room soon. Unfortunately, a sentence in the handbook provided by the school’s new owners concerned my husband.
I hadn’t actually read the sentence when my husband revisited it last week.
“This pisses me off!” Anthony exclaimed. “Can they even do this?”
He started reading the offending sentence. “‘We do not accept responsibility-‘”
I was talking with a friend. I waved him off. “Of course they can’t accept responsibility for outcomes! That’s a standard disclaimer.”
“I don’t think that’s what it says, Deb.”
I wasn’t listening.
I finished reading the sentence this morning. I immediately understood why Anthony was enraged, and unwilling to entrust Littler’s care to the school.
The sentence expressed a position inconsistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We do not accept the responsibility of … the administration of Epipen or other similar injections,” the handbook informed me.
Now, I understand that legislative documents are long and complex. The Act is not light reading.
Luckily for child care centers, parents and other impacted individuals, FAQs make accessible the otherwise incomprehensible.
Question #19 of the United States Department of Justice’s FAQ on how the Act applies to child care centers answers the question, “Do we have to take [kids with severe food allergies]?”
In a hard to misunderstand answer, the DoJ replies, “Generally, yes.” It further clarifies that centers “must take appropriate steps in the event of an allergic reaction,” including “administering a medicine called ‘epinephrine.'”
And that “generally”? How about that?
The DoJ kindly addresses that in questions #2 and #4 of the FAQ.
Question #2 specifies that religious entities are exempt. That exemption doesn’t apply to my son’s secular school.
Question #4 addresses exemptions for cases where “individual assessment” reveals that including a specific individual would “pose a direct threat” or “fundamentally alter” the nature of a program. Even apart from specific obligations to include severely allergic kids, the center’s categorical rejection of responsibility to administer a life-saving medicine fails–in this non-lawyer’s reading–the individual assessment test.
This all was established via a 1997 settlement.
That’s 1997, not 2014. None of this is news, which leads me to ask:
You know what’s harder than having to put up with someone else’s disability?
Having to live with one every moment of every day.
(For me, the “living with” is a constant fear of food not prepared at home, and that epinephrine might not be enough to save Littler if he does eat the wrong thing. Epinephrine often saves lives, but sometimes it doesn’t. For many others, “living with” presents much more concrete, immediate challenges on a minute to minute basis.)
That is precisely why the Act exists: to ensure protection for people not all others would necessarily care to protect. To make it their obligation to do so, overriding their inclinations–personal or commercial–by the written word of law.
To ensure that kids with severe allergies have centers to attend while their parents work, despite anyone else’s preference otherwise. That their parents are not improperly forced to enroll them elsewhere by any handbook suggesting they will simply be left to die should they have a severe allergic reaction.
I will not be sending Littler J to this school.
I will be discussing this matter with the school*, a discussion I began early this morning, for the sake of parents and kids at all the chain’s schools.
I do not accept its disavowal of its responsibilities.
* To my husband, I will be saying: I’m sorry. You were right, and I should have listened.