Senate Bill 1266, introduced by Republican Senator Bob Huff (Diamond Bar), and signed by Gov. Brown on September 16, requires public schools to stock emergency epinephrine auto injectors, known as EpiPens, on campus. This is an expansion of the law that said schools could stock the devices for students with a severe allergy to make it a mandate that all schools have the device on hand.

With full-time school nurses almost nonexistent, this means thrusting further medical duties on school staff if a child has a severe allergic reaction, says Kendra Harris, a lobbyist with the CFT. Over the years, school employees have been asked to take on more medical procedures that they aren’t necessarily trained for, Harris says — for example, Huff also passed a bill about administering Diastat if a child has an epileptic seizure.

“As school nurses are becoming obsolete, school personnel are being asked more and more to volunteer for things they’re not necessarily trained in,” Harris said. To address the school nurse shortage, CFT sponsored the Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds legislation that would have brought a nurse and a mental health professional to every public school in California. The bill stalled in the Appropriations Committee.

Harris says while the Legislature keeps passing bills requiring school staff to do more, they are not addressing the lack of professional medical care at school sites.

That’s one reason why Paula Phillips, president of Berkeley Council of Classified Employees and a CFT vice president, introduced Resolution 83 at the AFT Convention in July asking for a better system and federal regulation of medical procedures to protect members. Delegates at the Los Angeles convention overwhelmingly approved the resolution.

“With the passing of legislation that allows classified staff to do these procedures, I’m afraid the time for districts to restore nurses will never come,” she said. “Administrating medication should be left up to a school nurse — it shouldn’t be left up to someone who doesn’t have the proper training.”

Phillips says school employees don’t really “volunteer” to use EpiPens.

“Classified employees are being told to administer medication by default — it’s not me signing a form and saying, ‘I’m going to do this,’ — they’re giving me a form and saying, ‘Here, you’re going to do this,’” Phillips said. “If we say we don’t want to, they say, ‘I guess you don’t want your job.’”

What’s more, Phillips says tracking the pens, maintaining them properly in a cool place and replacing them regularly is essential; following up on the trainings, and communicating about what’s involved is spotty. Requiring people to make life or death decisions outside their realm of expertise is a lot to ask of classified staff, she says.

“If they do something wrong and a child loses his or her life, the emotional burden will last a lifetime,” she said. “We need further protection for classified school employees.”

Harris says there are some training provisions and civil liability protections built into the new law. But the Legislature had a hard time hearing the concerns of school employees when Huff had kids testify who had suffered an anaphylactic shock.

“He not only brought in doctors and nurses who had treated patients, he brought in parents and children — young children under the age of 10,” Harris said. “It’s heart-wrenching when you have a six-year-old describing how she couldn’t breathe.” 

— By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter